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.

Royals to sign Billy Hamilton

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LAS VEGAS — Jim Bowden reports that the Kansas City Royals are close to agreement with outfielder Billy Hamilton. He says they are “just working through bonuses and pending physical.” Hamilton was non-tendered by the Cincinnati Reds a couple of weeks ago following six seasons with the club, making him a free agent.

Hamilton is one of the fastest men to ever play the game, but he has never come around as a hitter. In his six seasons with the Reds he put up a line of .245/.298/.333 (OPS+ 70). While he has stolen 277 bases over that period, getting caught 63 times, he has never once led the league in steals, primarily because he just doesn’t get on base enough. He is an excellent center fielder, but the bat is so sub-par that even the glove and the wheels are not good enough to justify going to arbitration with him.

Perhaps a change of scenery will do him good. He will certainly bring some excitement to Kansas City. He’s a fun guy to watch play.