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MLB Hot Stove: Indians officially release Chris Johnson

Photo: Frank Jansky/Associated Press

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.

  • Natedawg86

    So how did the Tribe win that trade with ATL if they paid them 10M and got back a guy more expensive, then cut him?

  • mgbode

    Chris Johnson was not more expensive, he just had money pushed over more years. The money paid to ATL was to even things out financially. So, no one won that trade though the Indians did clear two players off the roster, while ATL still has them there.

  • jpftribe

    They didn’t. They paid off one contract a year early with the cash they sent, reportedly $15M. And spread the second contract over two years, ie… Johnson. Essentially it was a Johnson for Bourne deal. Hart wanted to do the deal to accelerate Johnson’s contract as they try to make a run in 2017 with a new stadium.

  • Hopwin

    I guess in hindsight it might have been better to just DFA Bourne and Swisher.

  • mgbode

    Depends on if we got ATL to eat any of the difference in $$. Doesn’t really matter either way otherwise.

  • Hopwin

    Also depends on whether or not we are going to deduct Johnson’s $10M from next year’s payroll on top the $7.5M salary +$10M ATL buyout from this year’s pool of resources.