The Braves and third baseman Chris Johnson on Thursday agreed to a three-year contract extension with a club option for the fourth year, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal. The reported deal would buy out Johnson's final two arbitration years and either one or two years of free agency, depending on whether the team picks up the option.
Johnson, 29, is off to a slow start in 2014, entering Thursday with a .231/.260/.330 line in 96 plate appearances. However, a relatively weak third base market -- combined with Johnson's breakout 2013 performance in which he hit .321/.358/.457 -- should earn him a nice payday, though monetary terms of the deal have yet to be disclosed.
Since the beginning of last season, Johnson's 111 OPS+ ranks 10th among the 20 MLB third basemen with at least 500 plate appearances. Of the nine players ranked above him, only two -- Adrian Beltre and Juan Uribe -- will hit free agency within the next two years, and both are six years older than Johnson.
The Braves acquired Johnson in January of 2013 as the throw-in part of the deal that netted Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks in exchange for a package of players that Martin Prado and Randall Delgado. Johnson was the pleasant surprise of the group and, as a result, will become the sixth Braves player to receive a multi-year extension this spring alone after Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran got more than $280 million in a span of 17 days prior to the start of the season, per Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That amount of money could be one of the main reasons the Braves decided to commit to Johnson right now. Other soon-to-be free-agent third basemen with similar numbers over the past few seasons will likely command a large chunk of change. 2014's free agent list includes Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley, both of whom will almost certainly command more money than Johnson even though they come with their own red flags.
By locking up Johnson, the Braves showed that they're playing it safe with what is a sketchy market for third basemen. Unless any surprises surface with the financial aspect of the deal, it should allow them to remain flexible while trying to build around a solid core. And, you could certainly do worse at the position than Johnson, who was a 2.4 WAR player a year ago and has shown the ability to remain in that general area.