Every front office works on improving its roster throughout the off-season. While the media and fan bases focus on the big names, sometimes the addition of the right bench player can add a win or two to a team’s record over the course of a season.
The Cubs signing of veteran outfielder Chris Denorfia was largely met with indifference and looked upon somewhat at the time as a better option than another rumored option, Jonny Gomes. And those that questioned the one-year contract had an issue with the Cubs bringing in another player the front office had a history with in either Boston or in the case of Denorfia, San Diego.
The Cubs were looking for a right-handed hitting option off the bench that could play all three outfield spots and produce against lefties when Joe Maddon called his number. And Chris Denorfia fit the bill, plus it did not take more than a one-year commitment to add him to the roster.
Early in the off-season, the question was raised as to why wouldn’t the Cubs just re-sign OF Reed Johnson and pair him with Chris Coghlan. Johnson plays all three outfield spots and would help provide veteran leadership to the clubhouse. Playing last season as a 37-year old, Johnson still produced against lefties (.303/.319/.409/.728) and not only does Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer know him rather well but Tim Wilken was Toronto’s scouting director when the Blue Jays selected him in the 17th round of the 1999 draft.
While the Cubs obviously didn’t bring back Reed Johnson, did Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer sign a younger version of Johnson in Chris Denorfia?
The career numbers at the plate and in the field are very similar. And both players are known as gamers and positive influences in the clubhouse. Looking at Reed Johnson’s career numbers, it jumps out that his best years in the majors, outside of 2006, were in a Cubs’ uniform.
The year before Reed Johnson fell into the Cubs lap during Spring Training in 2008, he hit only .236/.305/.320 with 13 doubles, two triples and two home runs for a .625 OPS in 79 games for the Blue Jays as a 30-year old in 2007. Johnson signed with the Cubs and produced a .303/.358/.420 line in 109 games during the 2008 season while mostly splitting time with Jim Edmonds. Johnson ended up hitting 21 doubles and six home runs for a .778 OPS.
Chris Denorfia struggled last year with the Padres and Mariners. At age 33, Denorfia batted only .230/.284/.318 with 12 doubles, four triples and three home runs for a .602 OPS. Denorfia’s best season at the plate came in 2012 (.293/.345/.451/.796) but he was still pretty good in 2013 when he produced a .279/.337/.395 line in 144 games with a .732 OPS.
As for career splits, Johnson has hit .260/.318/.375 with a .693 OPS in 2435 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. And Denorfia has put together a .257/.311/.367 line in 1235 plate appearances with a .678 OPS. And the career lines are also pretty close against southpaws.
In 919 plate appearances against lefties, Chris Denorfia has batted .292/.358/.430 with a .789 OPS while Reed Johnson has hit .310/.363/.454 line in 1533 plate appearances with a .818 OPS.
If Joe Maddon is able to receive similar contributions from Chris Denorfia as Lou Piniella did from Reed Johnson in 2008, the front office will have added a productive fourth outfielder to the roster that helped the team win ballgames.