Pirates eye Johnson for corner outfield spot

Other free-agent candidates Ankiel and Nady might take longer to settle

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The Pirates have had preliminary talks with free-agent outfielder/second baseman Kelly Johnson, an industry source said yesterday.

Johnson, who will turn 28 in February, became a free agent Saturday after being non-tendered by Atlanta. He is a .264 hitter over four seasons with the Braves, with home run totals of 16 and 12 in 2007 and 2008, respectively. But those numbers dropped last season to .224 with eight home runs, 29 RBIs and a .303 on-base percentage in 106 games.

He made $2.825 million in 2009.

The Pirates see Johnson, a left-handed batter, as an option for the corner outfielder they seek for two reasons: He is viewed as better defensively there than at second and, by having Johnson as an option in right field, they could move Garrett Jones to first base if Jeff Clement falters.

Other free-agent outfield options the Pirates have discussed include Rick Ankiel and Xavier Nady, each of whom is represented by Scott Boras.

The Pirates also have made contact with several other players non-tendered Saturday, including the continued monitoring of closer Matt Capps, whom they non-tendered Saturday.

Capps' agent, Paul Kinzer, has been contacted by at least 16 teams, though the level of interest among those teams is unclear. The Pirates have let Kinzer know that they retain interest in bringing back Capps at a price approaching that of their final offer Saturday, and they remain hopeful he can return.

Capps made $2.425 million in 2009, and the Pirates were not willing to pay a substantial raise because of his 4-8 record and 5.80 ERA this past season.

The Pirates are among several teams eyeing pitcher Kelvim Escobar for a minor league contract, and that included being one of eight teams to watch a throwing session yesterday in Venezuela, according to a report out of that country.

Escobar, 33, had been an effective starter for the Los Angeles Angels but shoulder trouble limited him to one appearance over the past two seasons. He is expected to switch to relief.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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