CJ a Devil Ray?
Former All-Star catcher Charles Johnson is about to continue his slide into irrelevance; the Colorado Rockies are set to trade him to Tampa Bay.
Johnson, who is owed $8 million dollars, is apparently going to go to Tampa for a minor-league catcher, reportedly the redoubtable non-prospect Shawn Riggans. In addition, the Rockies are going to pay more than $7 million of his 2004 salary just to get him out of town.
The Rox think that 25-year-old J.D. Closser is the answer behind the plate; his offense has declined as he's climbed the minor league ladder, but in the thin air of Coors Field Closser will probably continue to put up reasonable-looking numbers. His defense is said to be good, but Closser's main value is that he will be very, very inexpensive.
Which is not to say that Johnson is a better option; not only has he lost much of his defensive value, but his bat is also increasingly flabby. Anyone who hits .230 and .236 playing two years at Coors Field needs a wake-up. Perhaps being traded to Tampa Bay, baseball's French Foreign Legion, will do the job. This is the last year of his contract; perhaps that will light a fire under his butt. But the strategy of getting a surprising year out of him so you can a) either finish fourth or b) trade Johnson at mid-season is just not one that good teams depend on.
Will the Rays say goodbye to Toby Hall as their everyday catcher? It would be appropriate to do so; he is only four years younger than Charles Johnson. Hall's only marker is that he can hit lefties fairly well, which makes him useful as a bench player. Unfortunately, Johnson just isn't any better at this point than Hall. Neither of them are capable of helping a contending team win.
Ultimately, this deal has little to do with helping the Rays become a good team; for every move they make to help themselves, they take a step backward. They're probably patting themselves on the back for getting a nominal starting catcher for less than a million bucks. You get what you pay for.
Meanwhile, the Colorado organization is in perpetual gear-shifting mode, without an idea of how to turn the talent they have into a winning club. Appropriately, on their 2004 post-season media guide, they spotlit not only Todd Helton and Jeff Francis as their star performers, but also a pitcher with a 5.84 ERA, a 37-year-old third baseman who is no longer with the club, and a second baseman with a .328 on-base percentage. Sheesh. While giving Closser a job is a good idea in many ways, the Rockies need about six more of him.