"Mark Teixeira's a great first baseman and a great player," he said. "I just thought there'd be no chance."
Johnson became the second player in two days to return to pinstripes, finalizing a $5.75 million, one-year contract Wednesday to be a designated hitter and No. 2 batter.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called Johnson "a cheaper alternative at the DH slot" and "one of the better offensive-oriented players in the game."
"Obviously the big issue is to try to keep him on the field and stay healthy," Cashman said. "Is there a risk in signing him? Sure there is."
Johnson has a high on-base percentage (third in the majors at .426 last season) but is slow-footed (four stolen bases since 2006). While he is just 31, Johnson has made nine trips to the disabled list in a big league career that began with the Yankees in 2001.
He was traded to Montreal after the 2003 season in the deal that first brought the Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez, who was reacquired Tuesday in a trade with Atlanta.
Johnson's uncle, former Yankees (and current Dodgers) third base coach Larry Bowa, encouraged his nephew to sign with New York.
"He was telling me, 'You've got to go back. It's a great opportunity and special place to play,'" Johnson said.
Cashman hopes switching to DH will keep Johnson off the DL. When Johnson plays, he produces: He hit a combined .291 for Washington and Florida last season with eight homers, 62 RBIs, 99 walks, and a .405 slugging percentage.
With his payroll at $200.9 million for 16 signed players, Cashman pretty much has ruled out re-signing left fielder Johnny Damon. While he has Brett Gardner and winter meeting draft pick Jamie Hoffmann as options, Cashman said he will consider checking into trades and the free-agent market, where Mark DeRosa and Jermaine Dye are among the options.
"It won't be a big-name situation, I can promise you that," Cashman said.
Since winning the World Series, New York has jettisoned Damon, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, Brian Bruney and Phil Coke, adding Johnson, Vazquez, Hoffmann, All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson and reliever Boone Logan.
"We have a deeper rotation," Cashman said. "I think we have a younger, more athletic, defense-oriented outfield, although we still have power that's part of that process with Granderson's addition."
Johnson gets a $5.5 million salary next season, and the deal includes a $5.5 million mutual option with a $250,000 buyout. He can earn $1 million annually in performance bonuses: $50,000 each for 400 and 425 plate appearances, $75,000 each for 450 and 475, and $125,000 each for 500 and each additional 25 through 625. The option price would increase to $6 million with 500 plate appearances, $6.5 million with 550 and $7 million with 600. If he has at least 550 plate appearances, the buyout would be $500,000.