PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks acquired third baseman Chris Johnson from the Astros on Sunday, bolstering a position that has seen limited production all season.
The trade, which was announced early Sunday to explain Johnson’s absence from the Astros lineup, sends D-backs minor league outfielders Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering to Houston. The D-backs drafted Borchering, a 21-yeard old switch hitter, in the first round (16th overall) in 2009 and Krauss, 24, in the second round of the same draft.
Johnson, 27, hit .279 with eight homers, 21 doubles and 41 RBIs in 92 games for the Astros this season. For his career, Johnson is batting .274 with a .314 on-base percentage and a .735 OPS. He will join the D-backs in Los Angeles for their three-game series with the Dodgers that begins Monday.
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“Coming to a contender will hopefully energize him,” D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said. “I think the change of scenery will really be welcome for someone like him. He hasn’t been around a lot of winning lately.”
D-backs players had only just heard of the trade before Sunday’s game and could not offer much insight on the impact their new teammate might have, but they seem to recognize that he could provide some much-needed offense from the third-base spot.
“He can hit,” right fielder Justin Upton said.
The D-backs have gotten just 37 runs, a .230 batting average and a .285 on-base percentage from their third basemen this season, all second to last among NL teams. After trading Ryan Roberts to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, the D-backs have been using Willie Bloomquist and rookie Ryan Wheeler in somewhat of a platoon at third.
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson also offered somewhat-limited analysis of Johnson, saying he would have a better idea how Johnson fits once they have conversations in the next few days. He did, however, offer a comparison to another third baseman who’s been considered highly sought after approaching Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
“He’s kind of similar to (Padres third baseman Chase) Headley, except he’s not a switch hitter,” Gibson said. “He’s had a pretty good season, he’s still fairly young — 27 years old. I think we see a lot of potential in him.
“We believe he’s going to help us obviously, make us a stronger team. There’s room for improvement. We like to think if we could plug him into a good environment that he would get even better.”
Playing in Chase Field could provide a boost for Johnson, who went 4 for 11 with three doubles and two RBIs here last weekend.
“He didn’t have probably a lot of protection over there in Houston,” Towers said. “We feel like his numbers have been pretty consistent numbers over the years. And he’s got power. I think this ballpark will help him.”
Gibson also believes “the positive environment” in the D-backs’ clubhouse could make Johnson better, and at minimum, Johnson provides infield depth amid a demanding stretch.
The D-backs were playing the 17th game of a 20-game stretch without an off day Sunday against the Mets. Following an off day Thursday, they play a stretch of 23 games with just one off day.
“We virtually have no off days this next month, so this is big,” Gibson said. “We’re trying to get better, we’re trying to get stronger.”
The D-backs might be done making significant deals ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, though acquiring Johnson gives them the flexibility and depth necessary to potentially make another move involving an infielder such as Stephen Drew. Towers said Sunday he anticipated being busy through Tuesday’s deadline working from his hotel suite in Los Angeles, though he offered no indication anything was imminent.
Sunday’s deal developed over the past few weeks, Towers said, and the trade of Roberts earlier in the week made it more practical. Towers told Gibson of the possibility Saturday night before finalizing the deal Sunday morning.
“KT (Towers) puts tireless hours in evaluating and trying to figure out how we can be better, and obviously this is a move that he’s made in context with that,” Gibson said.
Towers said following Sunday’s game that a corresponding roster move will be made Monday to clear space for Johnson. Asked if something would have to be done with a middle infielder, Towers said simply that it would be tough to get enough at-bats for the infielders currently on the roster with Johnson coming aboard.