Most of iYankees’ readers believe that Reed Johnson, a career .313/.378/.463 hitter against southpaws, is the best right-handed outfield bat the Yankees can add this winter to bolster their current bench (especially with Jerry Hairston Jr. bound for San Diego). And, while I agree in that Johnson seems like the best platoon fit, unfortunately for the Yankees, Johnson’s defensive and offensive skills have attracted other suitors as well, and the Bombers may actually face some legitimate competition for the outfielder’s services.
According to two recent sources – one by Chicago Tribune writer Paul Sullivan and another by Chicago Sun-Times scribe Gordon Wittenmeyer – the Chicago Cubs are currently in search of a right-handed bat to compliment Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome, and the club could look to bring Johnson back to Wrigley in order to serve in that capacity. “Reed is in the mix,” said Chicago’s assistant GM, Randy Bush, when asked about the outfielder. “We love Reed. We’d love to have him back. We’ll see how it plays out,” Bush also stated. He did, however, note that Johnson is currently exploring his options as a free agent and is seeking a more prominent role than just right-handed caddy. “Reed’s main thing is playing time,” said Bush, adding that the 33-year old “wants to make sure he exhausts his possibilities that include significant playing time.” One wonders, however, whether or not such a “significant” role exists for the goatee-wearing free agent (maybe with the Mets as a center fielder?).
Of course, despite what the Cubs have said about wanting Johnson back, they could always seek a different right-handed bat, possibly one with a bit more power, as there are a number available (they have been linked to Jermaine Dye and, earlier today, Xavier Nady). Based on Bush’s comments, they seem to like him a lot though, so perhaps the club will try to continue that relationship. Such interest would likely create problems for the Yankees in their pursuit of a solid right-handed compliment for the young Brett Gardner. Brian Cashman would not be able to promise Johnson anymore playing time than Jim Hendry and the Cubs, so, in the end, his choice will be decided by money. If Johnson’s asking price takes even a very small step beyond $2 million – like Jerry Hairston’s recent deal – because of the interest from both Chicago and New York, perhaps the Yankees will concede defeat and look to Rocco Baldelli instead. I’m don’t think such a scenario is likely – I doubt Johnson receives a guaranteed proposal for $2 million from any club – but it is possible (he could reach that mark via incentives).
Either way, the Yankees have other options available to them. As Pete Caldera points out, Johnson is likely the most realistic and attractive target for the Yankees with regards to right-handed outfielders, but, if the Cubs ultimately muddy those waters, Baldelli, Jonny Gomes, Marcus Thames, and a number of others await.
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