By Jason Shetler
A few weeks ago, I mentioned Scott Kazmir as being the best fit for the Pirates rotation this offseason. I’m now going to shift my focus on the one free agent position player that would be a great fit for the Pirates next season, and that player is Kelly Johnson.
Johnson will be entering 2016 as a 34-year-old, but has still been an above league average player offensively, posting a .750 OPS along with a 108 OPS+ combined with the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets this past season. It also helps that he’s a left-handed batter, as with the great chance of Pedro Alvarez being dealt this winter, it becomes addition by subtraction in terms of still keeping a lefty bat in the lineup. Also, with the uncertainty of when Jung-Ho Kang will return to the Pirates next season, Johnson is a good enough option to play on a regular basis until Kang comes back.
Neil Walker, who is one of the Pirates biggest trade candidates, is projected to make $10.7 million in his last year of arbitration. Walker in 2015 put up a .756 OPS with an OPS+ of 107. When you compare those figures to Johnson’s 2015 season, they’re almost very similar. If the Pirates were to trade Walker, and sign Johnson, the move would be cost effective given the offensive numbers. Johnson made just $1.5 million this year, so let’s say even if he signs for $5 million next season, it’s still half of what Walker would make as an arbitration player. Should the Pirates decide to keep Walker, then someone like Johnson makes for a very good bat off the bench, as well as being a significant upgrade over Sean Rodriguez. Johnson can play both the infield and outfield, so there is some versatility there, which the Pirates would prefer. Considering all those factors, Kelly Johnson would be the right fit for the Pirates in 2016.