After agreeing on a one-year deal to return to the
spent an hour on the phone with new manager
"We strayed off and started talking about baseball situations," Johnson said. "The little things you need to do within the game to help your team win ballgames, whether it's breaking up a double play or keeping an inning alive by hustling down to first base. I think everybody notices the obvious things, the big home run or the big RBI late, but you never realize what set up that inning.
"We talked about all the little things we need to do better next year to win games. It's really refreshing to talk to somebody that knowledgable about the game of baseball, and hones in on all the little stuff. That's kind of what I do, hopefully, those little things within the game that sometimes go unnoticed to help you win."
The deal is contingent on Johnson passing a physical, which he said he'll do in San Diego, where he's visiting family for Christmas. Johnson has been doing mixed martial arts training this offseason and said his back issues aren't a problem.
"I do more of the strength and conditioning side of it," he said. "I'm not that stupid to step into the same octagon with those guys."
The 35-year-old veteran, who hit .309 with 22 doubles after making the club on a minor-league deal last spring, will play mostly against left-handers.
Johnson had only 246 at-bats last year, and his playing time may depend on whether the Cubs can dump
's contract, or if
is dealt to make way for rookie Brett Jackson.
"It's like every year," he said. "I just kind of walk in with no expectations at all. I'm just going to go out and play hard and show this new regime in Chicago what I can do. I'm sure they'll recognize that, and that usually warrants more playing time for me. I do feel like there is that opportunity to show these guys what I'm all about."
Johnson's hard-nosed play and one famous catch that nearly got him decapitated helped turn him into a cult favorite amongst Cubs fans in 2008, and he returned to Chicago in 2011 after one season with the
Johnson believes the clubhouse nucleus is strong enough to compete in 2012, and said he hopes
can "earn the trust" back that he lost after his walkout in Atlanta last August.
"I don't think there are any guarantees in this situation, from what it sounds like," he said. "He really needs to come in and prove not only to the coaching staff, but to the players that he's really a changed guy- not only in
or that first month of the season, but he's got to carry that over through the rest of the season. That's the big thing. That's going to be a huge thing, trust-wise, for the players and the organization, to see if this is going to be a long term thing."
Longtime Cubs minor league instructor Dave Bialas returns to the manager's seat at Triple-A Iowa, where former Cubs coach Dave Kelller joins him as hitting coach. The Cubs also plan to hire Bill Buckner as a hitting coach at Boise, their short-season Class-A affiliate, according to an