Pierce Johnson
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Pierce Johnson to pitch for Hanshin Tigers

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Right-handed reliever Pierce Johnson has signed a contract with the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball, the pitcher announced Saturday. Johnson cleared waivers in November and elected free agency after completing a one-year run in San Francisco.

The 27-year-old righty was initially selected by the Cubs in the first round of the 2012 draft and worked his way up to the majors before getting claimed off of waivers by the Giants in 2017. He made his sophomore debut at the start of the 2018 season and acquired an ungainly 5.56 ERA, 4.5 BB/9, and 7.4 SO/9 through 43 2/3 innings with the club. Altogether, he’s compiled just 44 2/3 major-league innings across two seasons in Chicago and San Francisco, and will seek to improve on disappointing totals when he switches over to Japan’s premier baseball league in 2019.

The details of Johnson’s contract with the Tigers has yet to be announced, nor is it clear whether or not he plans to make an eventual return to MLB. Former major leaguers to make recent appearances for the Tigers include right-handers Diego Moreno and Rafael Dolis and first baseman Efren Navarro.

Cubs won’t make Kyle Schwarber available in trade talks

Kyle Schwarber
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Cubs won’t deal Kyle Schwarber this winter, despite multiple inquires from teams around the league. Schwarber is approaching his first year of arbitration and will remain under team control for another three seasons before reaching free agency in 2022.

The decision comes on the heels of one of the strongest seasons of the 25-year-old outfielder’s short career. Over 137 games and 510 PA for the Cubs, he proved a passable defender in left field and batted .238/.356/.467 with 26 home runs, an .823 OPS, and 3.2 fWAR in 2018. He also led the National League in intentional walks, with 20, and bumped up his total walks from 59 in 2017 to 78.

Despite his marked improvements from previous years, Schwarber’s performance still left something to be desired — specifically against left-handed pitchers, who held the slugger to a paltry .224/.352/.303 with four extra-base hits across 91 PA. Still, it’s evident the Cubs feel Schwarber is capable of strengthening his splits in the years to come, and they might stand to get more value from him on the field than they would in a trade this offseason.

Of course, that’s not to say the Cubs intend to pass the Winter Meetings in total silence, especially as they’ll be seeking bullpen and catching depth in advance of their 2019 run at the division title. As club president Theo Epstein remarked last week, “We’re certainly open and active in trade talks with a lot of deals that usually don’t come to fruition. So, we may make some trades. We could make big ones that transform the roster. We may make smaller complementary ones. But there’s certain things we’d like to accomplish.”