Despite Rob Johnson’s struggles, I didn’t see this one coming

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Mariners catcher Rob Johnson caught 141 games for the Mariners over the past two seasons. (Photo by Otto Van Gruele Jr./Getty Images).

When you lose 101 games, change is inevitable. So it probably should be no huge surprise the Mariners jettisoned catcher Rob Johnson on Monday, designating the 28-year-old for assignment to clear 40-man roster room for Jack Cust.

But the move still is a bit of an eyebrow raiser, given the Mariners’ lack of depth behind the plate and the fact Johnson was the team’s Opening Day catcher just last season and was a well-regarded prospect not long ago as a fourth-round Draft pick in ’04.

We’ll have to see if anything plays out in the next 10 days, when the club must either trade, release or outright him to the Minor Leagues. It’s possible Johnson could still be dealt, given many teams are looking for catching help.

But Johnson’s run in Seattle appears done, which is frustrating for a franchise that had high hopes for him and Jeff Clement and Adam Moore as the backstops of the future behiind Kenji Johjima just two years ago.

Now Moore is the only one from that group still remaining and even he now will be competing with Miguel Olivo for playing time in the coming season.

I figured the club would give Johnson a chance to rebound this season after he struggled both at the plate and defensively last year after pushing hard to come back from offseason hip surgeries.

But there seems to be one truth that is difficult for Johnson to overcome. He is one of those right-handed hitters who struggles to solve Safeco Field, where he hit .122 last year and just .161 in his four years in Seattle.

Compare that with a .250 road mark last year and .239 career road average. Even though Johnson has played only 161 career games, those are pretty significant trends.

The Mariners had other names on their 40-man roster who seemed more expendable, including several of the 10 players added last month to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. But once added, a player must be exposed to the waiver process if they are taken off again.

Johnson drew the short straw at this juncture, indicating either the team doesn’t value him quite as highly as some might have been expected or they have a deal in the works and figure they can move him in the next 10 days.

Much like Jose Lopez, who could find a nice boost in his move to Colorado’s Coors Field, here’s hoping Johnson lands in a good spot to revive his career. He’s a first-class guy, one of the most-accountable players in the Mariners’ clubhouse in recent years, and pitchers enjoyed throwing to him.

Jarrod Washburn, for example, was a guy who loved working with Johnson.

But the Mariners need upgrades. They need improvement at catcher among many positions. The veteran Olivo and 26-year-old Moore will be expected to produce this season.

And Rob Johnson will get another shot as well. It just doesn’t appear that shot will be in Seattle.

 

1 Comment

Johnson wasn’t dropped from the roster just because of his poor offense (he apparently could only hit HR’s off of Ben Sheets in Oakland.) It was his defense, which was supposed to be his strong suit. The two hip surgeries left him unable to block balls in the dirt… or anywhere not directly over home plate, for that matter. He had 9 passed balls last year, and many more dropped balls and miscues. While M’s pitchers, especially Felix, might have liked the way he called games, he effectively took away the bottom half of the strike zone for those pitchers, making them easier to hit. You simply can’t carry a catcher like that unless he hits like Mike Piazza or Joe Mauer. With the pending addition of Olivo, he was very expendable; I’m just surprised they didn’t wait until the official Olivo signing to make the move in case it fell through. There are definitely other candidates on the M’s 40-man roster who could go: Milton Bradley (despite what the FO says), Matt Tuiasosopo, Edward Paredes, Tom Wilhemsen, Cesar Jimenez, and possibly Garrett Olson (though the team still desperately needs lefties in the pen.)

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