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.

Brandon McCarthy wins final spot in Dodgers’ rotation

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We learned on Monday that Hyun-Jin Ryu won one of the final two spots in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Brandon McCarthy has won the other, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. Alex Wood was McCarthy’s competitor for the spot.

McCarthy, 33, posted a 4.85 ERA across four appearances spanning 13 innings this spring, yielding seven earned runs on 14 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Wood, a southpaw, gave up five earned runs in six innings against the Reds on Tuesday, which might have factored into the decision.

Last season, McCarthy made nine starts and one relief appearance, posting a 4.95 ERA with a 44/26 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. In the event McCarthy falters, the club has Wood as well as Julio Urias and the injured Scott Kazmir as potential replacements.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.