Life since his abrupt release from the Toronto Blue Jays this spring has been very good to Reed Johnson.
"Definitely," the Chicago Cubs outfielder said Friday, before seeing his old team on the field for the first time. "We're having a good time in Chicago, playing well. Hopefully we see something special out of these guys this year."
The Cubs arrived for a three-game interleague series in Toronto as the best team in baseball, up 3 1-2 games on the St. Louis Cardinals for top spot in the NL Central. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, were fourth in the AL East, 7 1-2 games off the pace.
"Where I'm at now, I wouldn't want to be any other place," he said. "At the time it's shocking because you're out of a job and you don't know what's going to happen to you next. But as soon as I heard there were multiple teams interested, it's flattering."
The Blue Jays released Johnson on March 23, about a month after Shannon Stewart was signed unexpectedly during spring training. It remains an unpopular move in Toronto, as Johnson was a fan favourite for his all-out style of play, Gold-Glove calibre defence and knack for getting hit by pitches.
The Blue Jays, however, felt Stewart would provide more offence than Johnson while saving them some money, too.
Stewart, who is now on the disabled list, is making US$1.5 million this season, Johnson would have made $3.275 million in Toronto. His release cost the team about $500,000 and he later signed with the Cubs for $1.3 million.
Johnson is batting .267 with two homers and 28 RBIs in 52 games but is hitting .375 (18-for-48) with runners in scoring position, a serious sore spot for the Blue Jays. In Thursday's 3-2 win over Atlanta, he brought home the winning run with a bases loaded hit-by-pitch in the 11th.
Stewart was batting .240 with a homer and 14 RBIs in 52 games before his injury.
"They said they wanted more offence and that was the route they were going to go," said Johnson. "I'm a career .280 hitter so I don't think I'm really that bad offensively to begin with. But that's the decision they made, Stew is a proven veteran who's got some really good offence. I think we're pretty similar as players.
"I think he's making probably about half what I was making, so maybe that had a factor in the decision also."
Johnson was also at his diplomatic best, saying there's no hard feelings and that this series doesn't mean more to him than any others. He understands that he's the type of player who will always have to prove himself.
"That's been my whole career, not only with the Blue Jays," he said. "It was through high school and college and all the way to now.
"I'll be ready when my button's pushed."
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