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Josh Johnson is feeling good heading into spring training

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Padres starter Josh Johnson has been a Major League regular for eight seasons, but has been able to cross the 100-inning threshold just four times. The right-hander has famously had trouble staying healthy and it was the case last year after coming to the Blue Jays in a mega-trade with the Marlins. He made only 16 starts and posted a 6.20 ERA, suffering from inflammation in his right triceps, a blister on his throwing hand, tendinitis in his left knee, and a forearm strain.

Johnson underwent surgery in October to remove bone spurs in his right elbow. Lately, he has been working out near his home in Nevada and has received good reviews from UNLV head coach Tim Chambers which gave him a boost of confidence as he prepares to head into spring training with the Padres. Via MLB.com’s Corey Brock:

“He walked up to me and said, ‘I can see a difference in just you playing catch’ at the 75 feet or what it was at the time,” Johnson said. “That was huge. I’ve felt good but then to have someone else say I can see a difference, can see the extension … that was nice.”

Johnson also talked about how the elbow injury snuck up on him:

“Spring Training [in 2013], [the elbow] felt good, but there was something in there that wasn’t bothering me yet,” Johnson said. “We got to April and it started creeping in. You could tell that something wasn’t quite there. I couldn’t get to that extension.”

The Padres signed Johnson to a one-year, $8 million deal, hoping to get out of him what the Blue Jays could not — a full healthy and productive season. His fastball averaged 95 MPH as recently as 2010, but it fell below 93 MPH over the past two seasons. Additionally, he’s induced fewer ground balls and become more homer-prone, but a move to the spacious confines of Petco Park should help in that regard.

Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.