Braves sign Johnson to 3-year, $23.5 million extension

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson

ATLANTA — The Braves continued locking up players to long-term deals by signing third baseman Chris Johnson to a three-year, $23.5 million extension that includes a $10 million team option for 2018.

He’s the sixth Brave signed in the past three months to multi-year extensions worth a guaranteed $304.2 million.

After finishing second in the National League batting race with a .321 average in 2013, Johnson is off to a slow start in his second season with the Braves, batting .255 with six doubles, one home run, four RBIs and a .290 on-base percentage in 26 games.

He’s a .286 career hitter in the majors with a .326 OBP, 111 doubles and 46 homers in 516 games and nearly 2,000 plate appearances.

“Chris has proved over the last year to be a valuable member of our team,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said in a prepared statement.

In addition to batting average, Johnson set career-highs last season in doubles (34), OBP (.358), games played (142) and plate appearances (547), after coming to the Braves as what was widely characterized as a “throw-in” part of the trade for Justin Upton.

Johnson began the 2013 season in a third-base platoon with Juan Francisco, but played so well early that he took over the full-time job and the struggling Francisco was traded in June.

Johnson ranked among NL leaders with a .336 average in 116 at-bats with runners in scoring position last season. He was hitting .125 (2-for-16) in that category through Thursday.

He doesn’t fit the same profile as the five signed during a 17-day February frenzy when the team committed $280.7 million to extensions for right fielder Jason Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman, starting pitcher Julio Teheran, closer Craig Kimbrel and shortstop Andrelton Simmons. All five were 25 or younger and came up through the Braves system. Johnson is 29 and came via trade.

Half of the signed players — Heyward, Freeman and Johnson — are represented by the same agency, Excel Sports Management.

A fourth-round draft pick by the Astros in 2006, Johnson hit .308 with 22 doubles, 11 home runs and an .818 OPS in 94 games as a rookie in 2010. His production slipped some during the next two seasons before he was dealt to the Diamondbacks two days before the July 2012 trade deadline.

The Braves got him as part of the deal that brought Upton to Atlanta and sent Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and three minor leaguers to Arizona. In 168 games for the Braves over two seasons, Johnson has hit .311 with 40 doubles, 13 homers, 72 RBIs and a .348 OBP and .789 OPS.

During the February spending spree, the Braves signed Freeman to a franchise-record five-year, $135 million contract; signed Kimbrel to a four-year, $42 million deal with a fifth-year option; gave Teheran a six-year, $32.4 million deal, and extended Heyward for two years and $13.3 million.

Heyward’s is the only one of the six extensions that doesn’t buy out at least one year of the player’s free agency. Johnson’s deal buys out at least one of free agency in 2017, and two years if the option for 2018 is picked up by the Braves.

Of the five February signees, only Heyward — with exactly four years of major league service time before this season — had gone through arbitration once before signing his extension. Johnson had nearly five years of major league service entering the 2014 season and has twice been eligible for arbitration, settling in January for a one-year, $4.75 million deal for 2014, after making $2.875 million in 2013 as a “Super Two” arbitration player.