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Dan Johnson returns to the Rays as a knuckleball pitcher

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1B/DH Dan Johnson hasn’t been seen in the majors much lately — he has just 105 plate appearances over the last four seasons — but he is still remembered for his penchant for timely hitting. Johnson delivered a game-tying home run in the ninth inning of Game 162 of the 2011 season, which helped the Rays get into the playoffs.

Johnson also delivered a game-tying, ninth-inning home run for the Rays back in 2008 against the Red Sox.

Johnson is back with the Rays, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported on Saturday, but not as a hitter. As a knuckleball pitcher. The veteran inked a minor league deal with the Rays and will work with pitching coordinator Charlie Haeger.

“It’s not the first time I’ve tried this out but this is the first time I feel like I can take it seriously,” he said. “This is the time. I’m 36 and ready to go on this.”

R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays and Steven Wright of the Red Sox are the only major league knuckleballers at the moment. If he gets the chance to get back to the big leagues, Johnson would be joining a small group of pitchers.

Astros talking to Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole about extensions

Justin Verlander
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It’s extension season and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros — who already agreed to an extension with Alex Bregman — are discussing contract extensions with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

Funny thing about Verlander, by the way: when he got his current $180 million deal, most people fell into the “oh, there’s an overpay!” column. What’s more, this past winter, when everyone was talking about how bad it is to give guys big long term deals, Verlander’s name was notably absent in the conversation despite the fact that his deal has turned out to be quite good. I suppose that says something about how good the anti-long-term deal folks are at cherrypicking.

That being said, Rosenthal says “it would be an upset” if either Verlander or Cole signed extensions. I can see that. Verlander is locked up this year and has a vesting option for 2020, and a lot can happen in a year or two. Cole is a Scott Boras client and Boras clients tend to hit the market rather than sign extensions. Perhaps their former teammate, Dallas Keuchel‘s, terrible experience on the free agent market this winter will alter that calculus. Hard to say.