Johnson agrees to one-year, $1.3M deal with Cubs

Updated: March 26, 2008, 8:48 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Reed Johnson showed up sporting a Billy goat-like goatee. Now, he'll try to help the Chicago Cubs break the Billy goat curse.

Johnson agreed to a $1.3 million, one-year contract on Tuesday, adding depth and a right-handed bat to their outfield while embracing a historic challenge. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, which was one reason he wanted to join them.

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"Boston wins the World Series and then the White Sox win the World Series," Johnson said. "This is one of the only teams left that hasn't done it. I've always thought since I've started playing baseball, there's nothing else I would rather want. This was my first choice and, really, my only choice."

ESPN's Peter Gammons reports that Johnson can earn another $1.2 million in incentives.

A career .281 hitter in parts of five seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Johnson was released Sunday after missing more than three months last year because of a lower back injury. He had surgery last April to fix a herniated disc and hit .236 -- a sharp drop from his .319 average in 2006. Johnson said his back is fine and the "explosion" in his legs is back. If that's true, the Cubs believe he will fill a hole.

"We've been working on guys for the outfield for a while, and all of a sudden, probably the best fit in a lot of ways kind of just fell into our lap," general manager Jim Hendry said. "We've always liked him. We've tried to acquire him a few times the last four or five years from Toronto. He's really a hard-nosed player. He's an extremely good hitter against left-handed pitching."

Johnson is a career .308 hitter against lefties, and batted .325 against them last year.

With the Cubs, he'll help out in center field and could fill in for Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano in right and left. He started in center field against San Francisco on Tuesday and went 2-for-5 with a double, raising his average to .302, while scoring twice.

"We're happy to have him, he's going to get playing time," manager Lou Piniella said. "There's going to be some playing time for him. I've seen him play. He's a hard-nosed kid that likes to play. He's had a nice major league career."

Johnson said he has no idea how much he'll play, but he's used to platooning.

Although he was "a little surprised" when the Blue Jays released him, he figured they would get rid of an outfielder or shortstop once they signed Shannon Stewart to a minor league deal late last month.

In Chicago, Johnson will be reunited with former Blue Jay Ted Lilly along with Ryan Dempster, his workout partner when they shared a trainer as minor leaguers.

As for the goatee, "If things are going well, it's going to stay. If things go south, you'll see some facial hair changes throughout the year."

Besides signing Johnson, the Cubs optioned outfielders Sam Fuld and Eric Patterson to Triple-A Iowa. Left-handed pitcher Les Walrond and infielders Micah Hoffpauir and Casey McGehee were reassigned to the minor league camp.

Also, the Cubs placed Angel Guzman on the 60-day disabled list because of a right elbow injury, and they expect reliever Scott Eyre to open the season on the 15-day DL because of a bone spur in his left elbow.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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