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Johnson's arrival may push Zobrist to outfield

ST. PETERSBURG -- According to second baseman Kelly Johnson, he has agreed to a one-year contract with the Rays, pending a physical. The team has not yet commented on the deal.

Since the club's policy is not to comment on moves prior to those moves becoming official, the question regarding Johnson's signing begs the obvious: Why?

The Rays already have Ryan Roberts, who is signed to a one-year deal that will pay him $2.95 million, in addition to infielders Sean Rodriguez ($1 million), Ben Zobrist, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac. Yunel Escobar is penciled in as the starting shortstop.

Interpreting the move for Johnson, who made $6.375 million in 2012, it appears Tampa Bay could make Zobrist the team's full-time right fielder, which would make for an outfield consisting of Matt Joyce in left, Desmond Jennings in center and Sam Fuld as the backup.

Johnson, who hits left-handed, and Roberts, who hits right-handed, would then platoon at second base.

Given the Rays' positional flexibility, other options could come into play from time to time as well, such as inserting the right-handed-hitting Rodriguez into the lineup in either the infield or outfield, or using Zobrist some at second base.

Johnson's signing, along with the signings of Kyle Farnsworth and Luke Scott (which are expected to be officially announced this week), also makes it necessary for Tampa Bay to clear three slots on the 40-man roster, to which the trio must be added.

Johnson, 30, spent last season with the Blue Jays. He broke into the big leagues with the Braves in 2005, signed with the D-backs before the 2010 season and was traded to Toronto in 2011.

Johnson is a career .255 hitter, despite batting just .225 last season. He hit 16 homers and had 55 RBIs in 142 games for the Blue Jays in 2012.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for

Tampa Bay Rays, Kelly Johnson, Ben Zobrist