02/01/10 9:45 PM EST
Dodgers sign Johnson to one-year contract
Veteran can play all three outfield positions
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Johnson essentially replaces Juan Pierre as the veteran fourth outfielder, though without the speed or the left-handed bat, and his arrival leaves the Dodgers' bench overwhelmingly right-handed. Backup catcher Brad Ausmus bats right-handed, as do utility infielders Jamey Carroll, Chin-lung Hu and Nick Green.
"Defense and defensive versatility are more valuable than whether he hits righty or lefty," said general manager Ned Colletti. "[Johnson] can play all three outfield positions."
As for the fates of Jason Repko and Xavier Paul, who had been in position to compete for the fourth outfield spot, Paul would seem to have the edge if the team carries a fifth outfielder, as he bats left-handed.
Blake DeWitt, the leading candidate to start at second base until Ronnie Belliard re-signed, could make the team as part of a platoon or as a left-handed pinch-hitter, although management has preferred to have DeWitt play at Triple-A rather than sit in the Major Leagues.
So Doug Mientkiewicz could be the most likely left-handed pinch-hitter, even though he comes to camp as a non-roster invitee.
The Dodgers also will consider carrying either Hu or Green (recovering from back surgery) as a defensive specialist backup for shortstop Rafael Furcal.
The 33-year-old Johnson was platooning in center field with Kosuke Fukudome for the Cubs last year until fouling a pitch off his left foot and breaking a bone, causing him to miss nearly two months. He had spent time on the disabled list earlier in the season because of back spasms.
He hit .255 in 65 games last year but is a .282 career hitter with a .411 slugging percentage. He has a career .313 average and .841 OPS against left-handed pitching, but only .265 and .707 against righties.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers haven't stopped looking for pitching. They have been negotiating for the return of swingman Jeff Weaver and are monitoring several rehabbing free-agent pitchers, including Chien-Ming Wang and Noah Lowry.
The Dodgers watched Wang throw off flat ground last week but believe he is three months or more away from pitching in a game. Lowry's scheduled workout for scouts Tuesday was postponed.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.