ST. PETERSBURG — Watching the Rays stop, start and make a few unexpected turns through their offseason rebuilding, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac had the same thought as many observers: that the team had too many middle infielders.
Tuesday, they found out for sure, designated for assignment as the Rays made room on the 40-man roster to add one of those new infielders, Kelly Johnson, plus reliever Kyle Farnsworth. (The addition of DH Luke Scott in the next few days will require another move.)
The Rays have 10 days to trade, release or put the two through waivers, but both Elliot Johnson, a key reserve the past two seasons, and Brignac, the primary shortstop in 2011, were talking as if they were gone, grateful for the opportunity and gracious in their praise of the organization but eager for another chance elsewhere.
Johnson: "I feel good about how I played last year … so I'm looking forward to 2013 and getting the chance to do it in the big leagues with somebody else."
Brignac: "I'm not disappointed, I'm eagerly excited about the opportunity to play for another organization, possibly the chance to get a little more playing time."
Neither looked to get it with the Rays, who acquired Yunel Escobar to play shortstop, seem to be pairing Kelly Johnson, a lefty hitter, with righty Ryan Roberts (or Sean Rodriguez) at second base and have Ben Zobrist able to handle both spots when he's not in the outfield.
Both Elliot Johnson, 28, and Brignac, 27, are out of options, so the Rays couldn't send them to the minors without exposing them to waivers anyway. Johnson, a switch-hitter who can play anywhere, has the right to become a free agent if he clears waivers; Brignac, a slick fielder who swings left-handed, doesn't but would seem to have some trade value.
Johnson acknowledged he was "shaky defensively" last season but felt his offensive production "was great" as he helped the Rays through the absence of Evan Longoria, hitting .242 overall with six homers, 33 RBIs and a .654 on-base plus slugging percentage. Brignac spent most of the season at Triple-A Durham, hitting .231, and over the past two seasons in the majors has a .185 average, and .431 OPS, after hitting .256 in 2010. "It's not like I've fallen off and I can't hit completely anymore," he said. "I had one rough year."
Kelly Johnson signed for $2.45 million, a sizable cut from the $6.375 million he made last season in Toronto, where he hit .225 with 16 homers, 55 RBIs and a .678 OPS. He is "excited" about being used in other positions beside second base (including the outfield) and confident of a bounce-back offensive season. "I don't think it's possible for me to feel any better and more confident about where I'm at than I do," he said.
Farnsworth re-signed for $1.25 million, with a similar amount available in incentives, saying the combination of being near his Disney-area home and being with a team like the Rays was "pretty hard to beat." He also said his elbow, which forced him to miss the first half of last season, feels "as good as it ever has" and he's open to whatever role the Rays have.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]