The Pittsburgh Pirates have had some recent success with reclamation projects like Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett and right now are considered finalists for the Josh Johnson sweepstakes. Adding Johnson would be a very adept move by the Pirates to bolster their pitching staff, especially if Burnett retires.
Johnson will turn 30-years-old in January and is coming off of a terrible season with the Toronto Blue Jays. With the Jays he posted a 2-8 record, 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 81 1/3 innings. Could that have been injury related? Perhaps pitching in the AL East didn’t agree with him. Maybe it was the artificial turf that resulted in such gaudy numbers. Perhaps all three. Whatever the reason, Johnson struggled and the Pirates, if they land him, could be the beneficiaries.
Johnson is just a season removed from a 3.81 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 31 starts with the Miami Marlins in 2012. If the Pirates are getting that pitcher then they might very well have a fairly formidable rotation, especially if Francisco Liriano is anything like he was last season.
Of course, Johnson is always a gamble because of his health. However, he is a worthwhile gamble. He didn’t show a noticeable drop in velocity last season and actually posted a career-high K/9 ratio with 9.2. So perhaps it wasn’t his stuff that was poor but a combination of other factors.
The Pirates state they have a little money to spend this winter but that doesn’t mean they should go crazy and forgo signing potential low-risk/high-reward players like Johnson. Johnson might be the best low-risk/high-reward player on the market this offseason.
Right now, the Pirates have Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke as potential starters. Johnson is an upgrade over Locke and Rodriguez is still coming back from injury and so is Morton. Johnson is hardly a lock to be healthy but he if he is he could help make the Pirates’ rotation one of the best in the National League. Johnson is worth the risk.