Stewart over Johnson a Puzzling Choice
With the release of Reed Johnson, the Blue Jays' outfield picture has become a lot clearer. Shannon Stewart has made a triumphant return to the ballclub to share left field duties with Matt Stairs.
Stewart, a lifetime .300 hitter, scuffled through injuries and ineffectiveness after a big second half with the Twins in 2003. He rebounded with a respectable season in Oakland in 2007, and in terms of career value has been a better player than Johnson. He's always hit for a good average, has a little pop (12 homers in '07), a little speed (11/14 in stolen bases in '07) and will take a walk.
That said, if the job you're applying for is Matt Stairs' platoon partner, the top bullet points on the resume should be the ability to mash left-handers and to play defense.
Let's start with hitting lefties:
2007 AVG OBP SLG
Johnson .325 .381 .532
Stewart .269 .333 .365
2005-2007 AVG OBP SLG
Johnson .305 .380 .451
Stewart .263 .331 .351
That's a pretty clear edge for Johnson. Defensively, Johnson can play all three outfield spots and he can play them well. He's a prototypical 4th outfielder. Stewart, meanwhile, is limited to playing left field thanks to arm strength that's just this side of a 9-year-old girl. He's not a bad fielder, but Johnson is clearly better.
There may have been some worry about Johnson's recovery after back surgery, but he was hitting around .290 at the time of his release, which, spring training stat caveats aside, is certainly in line with his previous level of ability. Stewart is hitting about .225, so it's not as though he's blown the doors off the Grapefruit League to win the job.
There's a case to be made for keeping Stewart for his ability to hit right-handers
, an area in which the Jays were sorely lacking last season, but whose at-bats does he take? Stairs annihilated righties (.288/.364/.567) and Stewart certainly isn't going to DH in front of Frank Thomas.
He's a better everday option than Johnson, should Stairs go down, but in that case, the Jays would be better off letting Adam Lind play.
Lastly, he's cheaper than Johnson, who was slated to make $3 million. It's hard to imagine a financial motive for this move, since $3 million is practically nothing in 2008, particularly for the only team in baseball that has seen the currency it uses skyrocket in value over the last couple of years.
In the big picture, a team's choice of 4th outfielder is, in the best case scenario, probably worth no more than an extra win. But it does seem odd that for 2008, the Jays have given the job to the older and less versatile player.