You could make an argument that in each of his first two years with the team, Chris Johnson’s performance has been the Braves’ biggest surprise.
Chris Johnson was brought over in the Great Justin Upton Heist of 2013. The Braves felt Juan Francisco was in need of a right handed platoon partner to help replace Chipper Jones and tricked the D-Backs into including CJ in the deal. Remember all of the cute “He’s from the same town as Chipper,” stories?
In 2013, the New CJ was arguably the team MVP. He hit .321 and finished second for the batting title. That’s pretty good for a guy that was to be a platoon player and first bat off the bench. At age 29 he seemed to be coming into his prime and ready to be more than just a platoon/role player.
Seeing this performance, the Braves felt like they needed to buy out his arbitration years and locked him in through 2018. Of course, Johnson then went on to have the worst season of his career.
In 2014, the Eww CJ was terrible. He hit .263 and only got on base 29 percent of the time. His approach at the plate and constant temper tantrums became his hallmark and over shadowed his improvement in the field (only six errors compared to double digits in previous seasons.) Now this extension looks bad and was one of the reasons Frank Wren was shown the door.
I’m not sure it is time to cut bait on Johnson just yet. Is he as good as his 2013 numbers? Probably not. I also don’t think he is as bad as the 2014 numbers indicate. I think it is reasonable to think he was exposed a little in 2014 and didn’t make the adjustments. It would also be wise for the Braves to find a serviceable back up that can handle righties. Johnson crushed lefties to a tune of .395/.435/.553 in 2014 (compared to .231/.256/.533 to righties—that’s B.J. Uptonian).
I also wonder if Johnson’s performance is tired to his attitude. When he gets frustrated, the throws things at Terry Pendleton, sulks and seems like an ass. If he can learn to keep his cool, maybe he would relax and put the ball in play more. Who knows?
If Johnson can put up numbers somewhat closer to his 2013 mark, he may have some value come July for a team in contention. However, the Braves have little organization depth at third base and may elect to ride it out with Johnson. When you are rebuilding, you can afford to be patient.