Some free agent news and rumors…
-Dejan Kovacevic reports that the Pirates are interested in Kelly Johnson, who was recently non-tendered by Atlanta. This is the second report that the Pirates have been interested in Johnson, with the first coming from Tim Dierkes of MLBTR. The Astros and Cardinals are also interested in Johnson. DK says that the Pirates are interested in Johnson as an outfielder, giving them insurance incase Jeff Clement fails at first base, at which point Garrett Jones could move to first and Johnson could take over in right field.
Johnson is a second baseman, but has spent time in his career in left field, where he is better defensively. Overall, Johnson is very similar to Akinori Iwamura at second base. Both players had strong seasons in 2007 and 2008. Johnson combined for a .282/.362/.451 line in 1068 at-bats. Iwamura combined for a .279/.353/.394 line in 1118 at-bats. Both players struggled in 2009. Johnson hit for a .224/.303/.389 line in 303 at-bats. Iwamura hit for a .290/.355/.390 line, which is better than his 07/08 combo, but the downside came via injuries that shortened his season, and leaves his 2010 production in question.
At their best, Johnson provides more upside on offense, with a little more power. However, Iwamura is better defensively, with a career 1.4 UZR/150 in 1901.1 innings at second base, compared to Johnson’s -7.4 UZR/150 in 3007.2 innings at second. Over the last three seasons, Iwamura has combined for a 6.3 WAR, while Johnson has combined for a 5.9 WAR. That’s about a tenth of a win per year, which isn’t a significant difference.
Johnson would be a good addition, as he provides competition and insurance for Iwamura, as well as insurance for Clement, and a strong bat off the bench. This assumes that he bounces back from his 2009 season and returns to his 2007/08 numbers. Iwamura is also only under control for one season, while Johnson has two years of control remaining, giving the Pirates a guaranteed option at second in 2011 in the event that no internal option emerges to start the season in Pittsburgh.
-The Pirates also watched Kelvim Escobar throw, according to Efrain Zavarce, via MLBTR. No word on how much interest is there, although Escobar is an intriguing buy low option. Escobar has been plagued with injuries the last two years, and only has pitched in one game in the majors in that time, along with 20.2 innings in the minors. In 2007 he pitched 195.2 innings with a 3.40 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, and a 2.42 K/BB ratio out of the Los Angeles Angels’ rotation. Escobar will probably be looked at as a middle reliever due to his time off from the game, but there is a chance he could emerge as a starting option, and he’d be a great option if he could return to his 2004-2007 status, where he posted a 3.60 ERA in 653 innings.
-Two minor moves that the Pirates made in the last few weeks: they signed Chris Garcia and re-signed Milver Reyes. Garcia was signed out of the Independent leagues. He was originally in the Angels’ farm system, where he hit for a .332/.441/.471 line in 289 at-bats over two seasons of rookie ball. Garcia was released from the Angels for some unknown reason, but joined the Independent leagues and hit for a .361 average in 77 games. He’s 22 years old and hasn’t played outside of rookie ball, although you could classify the Independent leagues as some form of A-ball. Worst case, it’s a flier on a free prospect who might have some power potential from first base.
Reyes has been with the Pirates since 2001, but hasn’t been more than organizational depth during that time. 2009 was actually his best season, in which he posted a .282/.349/.410 line, but it was in a mere 39 at-bats. He has a career .189/.238/.241 line in 1142 at-bats, and is just a roster filler as a backup catcher.
Watch the Off-Season Tracker for all of the latest Pirates’ moves.