Pirates interested in Kelly Johnson as outfielder

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Non-tendered by the Braves last week, Kelly Johnson is said to be drawing serious interest from the Pirates, but Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that they view him as a corner outfielder rather than a second baseman.
Pittsburgh has previously been linked to free agents like Rick Ankiel and Hank Blalock, so clearly the Pirates are targeting left-handed hitters coming off down years with the idea of slotting them into either first base or right field with Garrett Jones manning the other spot. Johnson has been the Braves’ starting second baseman for the past three seasons, but has never graded out particularly well there defensively and did play left field as a rookie in 2005.
If he’s healthy and bounces back offensively Johnson would be a good low-cost option at second base for a lot of teams, but even his best years at the plate would be merely average production for a corner outfielder. Johnson hit .282/.362/.451 over 1,222 plate appearances in 2007-2008, but fell to .224/.303/.389 in 2009. He’s a career .264/.346/.430 hitter, whereas the average MLB corner outfielder batted .270/.345/.443 in 2009.
Average hitting and above average fielding certainly isn’t a bad combination in right field, but that likely represents Johnson’s upside coming off a career-worst, injury-wrecked season. As a second baseman who potentially hits like a corner outfielder Johnson makes plenty of sense on a one-year deal, but the Pirates can probably do better in their search for a left-handed outfield bat.

Watch: Ryan Goins tags Todd Frazier with the hidden ball trick

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The Yankees are facing a convoluted path to the postseason, and they didn’t do themselves any favors after Todd Frazier fell for Ryan Goins‘ hidden ball trick in the third inning of Friday’s series opener. With one out and Frazier on second base, Jacoby Ellsbury skied a deep fly ball to right field, where it was caught by Jose Bautista just shy of the warning track and tossed back to Goins at second. Goins faked the throw to Marco Estrada, then sneakily (or not so sneakily, depending on your vantage point) gloved the ball and caught Frazier off the bag for the third out.

Of course, it helped that Frazier’s back was turned during the throw, so Goins’ fake-out may not have been as obvious as it was when the Yankees reviewed the tape several minutes later.

Goins earned another spot on the highlight reel in the sixth inning, mashing his second grand slam of the season while Frazier — and the rest of the Yankees’ offense, sans one home-run-record-slaying Aaron Judge — scrambled to catch up. The Yankees currently trail the Blue Jays 8-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, and will need to pull off a comeback (and hope the Astros and Athletics clinch their respective games) before they can lay claim to a playoff spot.

Blue Jays shut down Steve Pearce for the rest of 2017

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The Blue Jays have shut down left fielder Steve Pearce for the remainder of the season following a lingering case of lower back stiffness. Pearce has not appeared in a game since September 8, when he was forced to exit in the first inning after experiencing back pain during his at-bat. Per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, he’s scheduled to return to Florida next week, where he’ll receive epidural injections to address the pain.

Pearce, 34, impressed in his first season with Toronto. He battled through a calf injury during the first half of the season and finished the year with a modest .252/.319/.438 batting line, 13 home runs and a .757 OPS through 348 PA. By September, the Blue Jays started testing the waters with outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez, who shouldered the bulk of the starts in left field after Pearce was sidelined with back issues.

With the Blue Jays all but eliminated from playoff contention, however, there’s no rush to get Pearce back to the outfield. He should be in fine shape to compete for another starting role in spring, and could face stiff competition from Hernandez if the rookie continues building on his .278 average and three home runs this month. The veteran outfielder is slated to receive the remaining $6.25 million on his contract in 2018 and will be eligible for free agency in 2019.