In 2013, the Rays are going to have a lot of former Rays to root for on the Kansas City Royals (except, of course, when they’re playing the Rays). Earlier this offseason, the Rays executed the high-profile trade that sent right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for top outfield prospect Wil Myers, pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and also third base prospect Patrick Leonard. Then, the Royals also invited former Rays reliever Dan Wheeler to their major league camp to add to the ex-Rays fun. But now you can one more player to that list. In that big trade involving Shields and Myers, there was one thing that was left unsettled: a player-to-be-named. Now the matter has finally been dealt with as the Rays have sent infielder Elliot Johnson, who had been designated for assignment a few weeks ago, to Kanas City to complete the deal.
Why is Johnson being named as the player-to-be-named precisely now? Well, one quirk of a “player-to-be-named” is that he can’t be a player from the team’s 40-man roster. Only after he was designated for assignment did Johnson leave the Rays’ 40-man roster. Likely what happened was that the Rays offered the Royals several low minors prospects as options for the Royals to choose from but they decided that they liked Johnson better than any of them, and considering they had exposed Johnson to waivers, the Rays were perfectly willing to comply. Why Johnson over Reid Brignac? Maybe the Royals’ preference or possibly the Rays got the sense that either Brignac could net them something in a trade if he’s claimed on waivers or the opposite, that Brignac is more likely to pass through waivers and remain in the organization. In any event, the blockbuster deal between the Rays and Royals from back in December is officially complete and both teams are ecstatic with what they received. The Royals got the ace of their staff in Shields, another potential starter in Davis, and a big league utility player in Johnson while the Rays received four prospects with the ability to be a major part of their future, most notably the highly-touted Myers who could break into the majors at some point in 2013 and emerge as their starting right fielder for years to come.
Johnson, about to turn 29, gives the Royals a versatile utility option coming off a breakthrough year at the plate. In a career-high 123 games and 355 plate appearances, the switch-hitting Johnson managed a halfway-decent .242/.304/.350 line (84 OPS+) with 6 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 24 attempts while playing primarily shortstop, second base, and also seeing a spattering of time at third base and left field. He really did not have that bad of a year, but the Rays didn’t consider him necessary on their roster as they finally found a starting shortstop this offseason, Yunel Escobar, and watched Johnson crumble at the plate in the second half and exhibit inconsistency wherever they put him on the field defensively despite good range and a solid arm. Other than his performance on the diamond, Johnson’s character also rates as a huge plus. Johnson has overcome a lot in his career, starting out as an undrafted free agent signee by the Rays out of high school back in 2002 and fighting through years of struggles at Triple-A to crack the Rays’ roster after a huge 2010, and on the opposite edge of the spectrum, he has been one of the most interactive players with fans via his Twitter account, even once meeting fans outside Tropicana Field to have a catch before a game after they contacted him on Twitter. Adding his clubhouse presence to his solid skill-set gives Johnson the ability to be a solid contributor for the Royals on and off the field and a worthy member of their 25-man roster. It’s pretty sad that Johnson is best known throughout baseball for bowling over Francisco Cervelli and breaking his wrist in spring training of 2008, but through his exploits on the field and on Twitter, Johnson has become known for far more than that and will be missed by Rays fans as he moves on to the Royals. Best of luck to Johnson in Kansas City.