As someone who played for three different organizations during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Chris Johnson was beyond pleased that the third team on that list, the Braves, saw fit to give him some long-term security Friday.
The Braves continued locking up players to multi-year extensions by signing Johnson to a three-year, $23.5 million extension that includes a $10 million team option for 2018.
“I bounced around for a little while there,” Johnson said. “I got traded from Houston to Arizona, then went from Arizona to here. I think that’s the biggest thing – everybody talks about the money and everything, but for me it’s people believing in you, people saying, ‘Hey, you’re our guy.’
“It gives me goosebumps just thinking about that and hearing that. And that’s what (general manager) Frank (Wren) told me today when we went upstairs to sign the contract.”
Johnson is the sixth Braves player signed in the past three months to multi-year extensions worth a guaranteed $304.2 million. He will make $6 million in 2015, $7.5 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2017. The $10 million option for 2018 comes with a $1 million buyout.
After finishing second in the National League batting race with a .321 average in 2013, Johnson is off to a slow start in his second season with the Braves, batting .255 with six doubles, one home run, four RBIs and a .290 on-base percentage in 26 games. He went 3-for-3 with a walk Thursday night at Miami.
He’s a .286 career hitter in the majors with a .326 OBP, 111 doubles and 46 homers in 516 games and nearly 2,000 plate appearances.
In addition to batting average, Johnson set career-highs last season in doubles (34), OBP (.358), games played (142) and plate appearances (547), after coming to the Braves as what was widely characterized as a “throw-in” part of the January 2013 trade for Justin Upton.
He doesn’t fit the same profile as the five signed during a 17-day February frenzy when the team committed $280.7 million to extensions for right fielder Jason Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman, starting pitcher Julio Teheran, closer Craig Kimbrel and shortstop Andrelton Simmons. All five were 25 or younger and came up through the Braves system. Johnson is 29 and came via trade.
Half of the signed players – Heyward, Freeman and Johnson – are represented by the same agency, Excel Sports Management.
A fourth-round draft pick by the Astros in 2006, Johnson hit .308 with 22 doubles, 11 home runs and an .818 OPS in 94 games as a rookie in 2010. His production slipped some during the next two seasons before he was dealt to the Diamondbacks two days before the July 2012 trade deadline.
The Braves got him as part of the deal that brought Upton to Atlanta and sent Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers to Arizona.
Johnson’s fiery on-field demeanor has led to a couple of confrontations with opponents and even Braves first-base coach Terry Pendleton, but teammates admire his work habits and competitive drive. His long-term extension was met with approval in the clubhouse.
“It’s awesome,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said of having infielders Johnson, shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Freeman all signed for between three and seven more seasons. “And Dan (Uggla) is signed for another year too. I’m just so happy for Chris. He’s worked really hard and played so well his whole career in the big leagues. It’s well-deserved.
“He goes out there and plays hard every single day, plays with a lot of passion – obviously – and we love that. He wants to win, he wants to succeed and play well. Everybody gravitates toward guys who are like that. You just want to be on the same level as him and go out there and give it your all every night like he does.”
During the February spending spree, the Braves signed Freeman to a franchise-record eight-year, $135 million contract; signed Kimbrel to a four-year, $42 million deal with a fifth-year option; gave Teheran a six-year, $32.4 million deal; signed Simmons to a five-year, $58 million deal, and extended Heyward for two years and $13.3 million.
Heyward’s is the only one of the extensions that doesn’t buy out at least one year of the player’s free agency. Johnson’s deal buys out at least one free-agent year 2017, and two years if the option is picked up.
Of the five February signees, only Heyward — with exactly four years of major league service time before this season — had gone through arbitration once before signing his extension. Johnson had nearly five years of major league service entering the 2014 season and has twice been eligible for arbitration, settling in January for a one-year, $4.75 million deal for 2014, after making $2.875 million in 2013 as a “Super Two” arbitration player.