The Cleveland Indians had designated Chris Johnson for assignment 10 days ago upon signing Rajai Davis to make room on the 40-man roster. Not surprisingly, the 10 days went by without a team claiming Johnson nor a trade being completed with another team. Therefore, the Indians have elected to release Johnson thereby eating the rest of the $17.5 million he is owed (includes a $1 million buyout of his 2017 team option), which is a rare event from the Cleveland baseball team.
The Indians had announced that Johnson had been designated for assignment at 1:10 p.m. Thursday December 10. Johnson, a 31-year-old third baseman with little defensive value and a rapidly declining bat, was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Nick Swisher/Michael Bourn trade in August.
Johnson is owed $7.5 million in 2015 and another $9 million in 2016. Of course, both Swisher and Bourn — albeit more expensive contracts — both become free agents at the end of this season. Even still, the Braves have been looking to trade both players. The Indians sent some unknown amount to the Braves in that trade, reportedly somewhere around $10 million.
The reason Johnson is no longer with the Indians is simple: Johnson is not the hitter he once was. In the past two MLB seasons, he hit .261/.291/.354 in 236 games. He only played 27 games for the Tribe because of a fluke spider bite that turned into a trip to the disabled list. Just back in 2013, he was a .321 hitter. But those days appear long gone.
The Indians deciding to consider Johnson a sunk cost and not factoring his contract into the decision of how to construct the 40-man roster and eventually the 25-man MLB roster is a positive step towards the team playing with the best possible chance at competing in 2016 given the players on hand. With a few holes left on the team, a couple more moves would help too.