Tampa Bay Rays Add First Baseman Dan Johnson to Improve Infield Depth

With spring training only five weeks away, the Tampa Bay Rays are reworking their infield and looking to fill out their roster for the 2010 season.

Their latest addition is Dan Johnson, who agreed to a one-year, $500,000 deal. Johnson will serve as a backup first baseman, and his signing brings Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster to 37. 

Johnson is no stranger to the Rays’ franchise, playing four seasons with Tampa Bay and Triple-A Durham.  The left-handed hitter returns after playing last season in Japan for the Yokohama BayStars of the Japanese Central League.

“When the Rays showed interest, it was easy for me,” Johnson told MLB.com. “Obviously, I have good memories with them. I was really interested in coming back.”

Johnson will provide the Rays with depth at first base, offering support to Carlos Pena.  In Johnson’s 2009 season in Japan, Johnson played third base and hit .215 (70-for-325) with 24 home runs and 57 RBIs.

The name may still not sit well with most members of Red Sox Nation — if the name sounds unfamiliar, a Google search of his name yields results including “Fenway Hero.” Johnson’s claim to fame is his dramatic ninth-inning, full-count, pinch-hit home run off Jonathan Papelbon to tie the score at Fenway on Sept. 9, 2008. 

Before being called up to play with the Rays, Johnson appeared in 113 games for their Triple-A affiliate and was named Player of the Year for the Durham Bulls in 2008 after hitting .307 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs.

While the Rays are all set at first base, their second base position is still uncertain and remains the team’s biggest issue heading into spring training. Ben Zorbist may assume the position, but there is also talk of him playing right field or splitting time at both spots.

If Zorbist plays outfield, filling the second base spot could pose a problem for the Rays. The other options are inexperienced players such as Sean Rodriguez (who was acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade), Reid Brignac or veteran minor leaguer Elliot Johnson.

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