ESPN's Bruce Levine reports that the Cubs have signed 34-year old free-agent OF Reed Johnson to a minor league contact with an invitation to Spring Training.
The right-handed hitting Johnson played college ball at Cal State - Fullerton, and was a 17th round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999. He made his big league debut in 2003, and is a career 281/340/408 hitter in MLB. He was released by Toronto at the end of Spring Training 2008 (the Jays wanted to avoid paying him the $3.2M salary he won in arbitration), and he was immediately signed by the Cubs. Johnson played for the Cubs in 2008 and 2009 and did a nice job, hitting 303/358/420 with six HR and 20 doubles in 109 games in 2008 while platooning with Jim Edmonds in CF. and 255/330/412 with four HR and ten doubles in just 65 games in 2009.
Johnson signed with the Dodgers after leaving the Cubs, and hit 262/291366 with two HR and 11 RBI in 45 games last season.
Johnson has a chronic back problem that his landed him on the DL for extended periods over the past two seasons, but when healthy he is a decent 4th OF. Ryan Dempster had lobbied to bring the popular Johnson back to the Cubs when he was a free-agent post-2009, but the Cubs chose to let him look elsewhere.
Johnson will battle Fernando Perez, Brad Snyder and James Adduci for a back-up OF job in Spring Training. and while he is signed to a minor league contract, Johnson probably has an opt-out clause in his contract allowing him to demand his release if he does not make the Cubs 2011 Opening Day 25-man roster.
The Cubs have also agreed to an $850K 2011 contract with 31-year old back-up catcher Koyie Hill, avoiding arbitration. The switch-hitting Hill has been with the Cubs since 2007, and has been the team's primary back-up catcher for the past two seasons.
Hill is a career 215/276/302 hitter in the big leagues, and has hit 211/271/299 in 206 games (642 PA) as a Cub. He has thrown out 28% of opposing base-stealers in his career (but only 18% last season). The veteran backstop has good receiving skills and is a smart and savvy game-caller and handler of pitchers, and that has kept him in a Cub uniform despite a weak bat,
Hill played college ball at Wichita State, and was a member of Team USA in 1999. He played 3B at Wichita State and 2B with Team USA, and then was converted to catcher after getting drafted and signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000. Once a Dodgers Top 10 Prospect, Hill suffered a broken ankle in a home plate collision after being acquired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in a trade for Steve Finley in 2004, and then he sustained a near career-ending hand injury when he cut off his thumb and two of his fingers of his right hand (throwing hand) with a table saw after the 2007 season. Doctors were able to surgically reattach the thumb and fingers in a way that allowed him to continue his baseball career.
The Cubs originally signed Hill as a Rule 55 minor league FA after the 2006 season.