Johnson off the market but Polanco is close


Updated: Early Tuesday afternoon I caught up with Josh Johnson‘s agent who said his client had the Pirates as one of ‘three of four’ finalists for his services. Unfortunately for the Pirates, late Tuesday night the Padres turned out to be the finalist. ESPN  reported around midnight that Johnson had agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal with the Padres. The deal carries $1.25 million in incentives.


Johnson’s is coming off a down year, but has upside: See his 3.58 xFIP vs. 6.20 ERA and a 9.2 strikeout rate. Johnson was seeking for a pitcher-friendly home ballpark and for a ticket back to the National League after a disastrous year in the AL East.


The Pirates have a run-depressing park and have revitalized the careers of Francisco Liriano and AJ Burnett in recent seasons. It’s not surprising they were on each other’s radar. It’s a fit that would have made a lot of sense. But San Diego and San Francisco were thought to be his favorites from the beginning as they  closer to his Las Vegas home.


The Pirates are calling on other high-upside starting pitchers as we reported last week, but Johnson was perhaps the most attractive upside play on the market.


Johnson looks a lot like Liriano of 2012. Johnson’s ERA was ugly but like Liriano in 2012 he still had an elite strikeout rate, low-to-mid 90s velocity (92.8 mph in 2013 same as 2012) and a swing-and-miss slider. Johnson posted his best swinging-strike rate (9.3 percent) since 2010.


The good news is for the Pirates is Johnson and his agent realized the Pirates’ defensive plan made a difference last year. Other pitchers and agents see this, too. They also saw September’s raucous crowds and the 94 wins,


“I think Pittsburgh was considered at one as a total no go as a destination for players,” Johnson’s agent Matt Sosnick said. “I think that Neal and his group there have changed that and that mindset.”


Had Johnson signed with the Pirates, the Pirates’ financial flexibility to sign AJ Burnett could have been hindered.




Polanco is tearing up the winter league and Pirates Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo is there to see him:


“He’s playing very well,” Gayo said. “He is very close to being ready.”


And it’s not just Gayo who is impressed, it’s also outside scouts, according to a report by Peter Gammons.


22-year old Pirate outfielder Gregory Polanco —6-4, Devon White speed, big arm. After jumping to double-A this season, he’s leading the Dominican with four homers, has an OPS close to 1.000, and while the Pirates—whose organization is developing into one of the best in the game—feel he needs to start the season in triple-A, by August they can see this five tooler in a three center fielder outfield with Andrew McCutchen flanked by Polanco in right and Sterling Marte in left.


Coming to right field and a perhaps lead-off spot near you in 2014. But how early in 2014?


– TS