Last week when I discussed the Chad Durbin signing I pointed out that Indians GM Chris Antonelli was being prudent about his limited free agent payroll and wisely waiting out players as options became scarce. Now he's done so again, bringing in first baseman and on base machine Nick Johnson on a Minor League contract.
Johnson has battled injuries throughout his career but was mostly healthy in 2009, his last full season, and posted an OBP of .426 in 574 plate appearances. Odds are that Johnson won't be ready for the beginning of the season after having wrist surgery that caused him to miss almost the entirety of the 2010 season.
When he comes back he can backup Matt LaPorta at first, or if the injuries to Trevor Crowe (shoulder) and Grady Sizemore (knee) keep them out of the lineup for an extended period of time, the Indians could shift LaPorta back out to left while Michael Brantley moves to right. That would open up first base for Johnson.
Like the moves to bring in Durbin and Orlando Cabrera, adding Johnson is more about adding depth and veteran predictability than increasing the teams divisional competitiveness. But Antonelli has also found a way to make his club better without adding payroll. It's an improvement on the margin, but it's still an improvement.
Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.