All it took was one stroke of the pen for Giancarlo Stanton to put his signature on a 13-year contract that made him the richest athlete in professional sports history.
Reed Johnson, on the other hand, has clawed his way through a dozen big-league seasons and is hoping for a 13th, every one of them on a one-year contract — the major-league equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck.
“It’s not unfair,” Johnson said of how his circumstances compare to Stanton’s. “I wish things came easier, and I wish multiyear deals had come along the way. But at the end of the day, that’s kind of what makes me ‘me.’ I think that’s why a lot of guys respect the route I’ve taken, as well.”
Johnson, 38, reported to spring training for the Marlins on a minor-league contract. He’ll only receive a major-league salary ($1,250,000) if he wins a spot on the 25-man roster. If he fails to make the final cut, he’ll likely call it a career rather than accept an assignment in the minors.
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“I don’t think I would,” Johnson said.
Assuming there are no injuries to any of the Marlins three starting outfielders — Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich — or reserve outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, Johnson is vying for one open bench spot as an extra outfielder and pinch-hitter.
Johnson made the Marlins’ Opening Day roster last year as a spring training nonroster invitee and proceeded to rank second in the majors with 16 pinch-hits.
“At the end of the year I looked back at all my hits videos, and pretty much all of them were late-inning, big situations,” Johnson said.
Johnson also ranks third among active players in being hit by pitches. Johnson has been plunked 133 times during his career. And that doesn’t count the time he was struck in the arm by a Mike Fiers pitch in Milwaukee on Sept. 11 — the first pitch thrown by the Brewers pitcher after he decked Stanton with a pitch that struck the slugger in the face.
Johnson was in the process of swinging the bat, and a strike was called.
Last season, Johnson was the oldest player on the Marlins’ roster.
This year, if he is fortunate enough to win a roster spot, he’ll be the second-oldest — behind the 41-year-old Suzuki.
“I’m happy now,” Johnson said with a laugh. “They can’t call me the old man anymore.”
Johnson looks the part of a distinguished gent, though. He smokes a tobacco pipe — “my rally pipe,” he said — and hikes his pants up to his knees for a true retro look.
But it is his year-to-year, major-league journey over such a long period that sets him apart from everyone else.
“I’m trying to set a record,” he said, joking, of his 13 consecutive one-year contracts.
All told, Johnson has earned about $15 million over his career, which is less than what Stanton will make on a yearly basis toward the latter half of his contract.
Johnson doesn’t fret over his tenuous status, or the fact it wasn’t until late in the offseason when he finally received a spring-training invitation.
“This game is all about reducing your anxiety,” said Johnson, adding that he employs mental imaging techniques to help him relax. “If you let those things creep in, your anxiety is going to be through the roof and you have no shot.”
But Johnson is aware that his age or his numbers don’t improve his odds.
“It’s such a statistically driven game,” he said. “The statistics guys will say, ‘The player between 35 and 38 years declines at this rate and gets hurt at this rate,’ so that becomes like a scare for some of those teams to sign somebody like me. But, at the same time, I’m not your normal 38-year-old.”