2013 is Neal Huntington's seventh offseason at the helm of the Pirates (!!! I know) and at this point, it's relatively easy to look at a free agent list at the beginning of the off-season and guess who he'll be interested in. Josh Johnson is 6'7", he's capable of throwing hard, he strikes out a ton of hitters, and he's coming off of a mediocre year in 2012 with Miami and an abjectly terribly 2013 in Toronto. He is, essentially, formed out of a cookie cutter personally crafted by Neal Huntington himself.
As such, it was no surprise this afternoon when Travis Sawchik tweeted that the Pirates are "finalists" for Johnson's services. They are presumably behind San Diego and San Francisco, since he's from Vegas and there's reason to believe that they're the top teams on his list, but it's possible that the Pirates' recent success getting Francisco Liriano back on track and the fact that they made the playoffs in 2013 while the Padres and Giants did not* makes them a fairly attractive landing place for him on a one-or-two-year deal.
Obviously we'll have to wait and see how this plays out and I'll go more in depth into this if he does sign with the Pirates, but I'm a little wary of the "the Pirates did good things for Liriano, Johnson will be a great fit" line of thinking here. Obviously the Pirates have had success rebuilding some pitchers in the last couple of years (Liriano and Charlie Morton being the best examples), but Johnson's had quite a few health issues over the last two seasons (a quick rundown from his Baseball Prospectus player card: blisters, knee problems, and elbow problems that lead to surgery for bone spurs at the beginning of October) and his fastball velocity is on a pretty noticeable decline over the last few years. All of that being said, his success came with good groundball rates and his peripherals didn't help him at all last year, which means he was probably a little better than that awful 6.23 ERA indicates. The NL Central and PNC Park will also treat him much nicer than the AL East and the Rogers Centre.
What might be the most interesting about this is that the Pirates really only have room in the rotation for Johnson without AJ Burnett (we can assume that Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, and Charlie Morton have a fairly strong grasp on rotation spots at this point). There hasn't been much movement at all on the Burnett front since the qualifying offer deadline from almost two weeks ago. I wouldn't exactly use the news that the Pirates are interested in Johnson to jump to the conclusion that Burnett won't be back with the Pirates, but it seems like the Pirates are at least considering all of their options at this point.
In other Johnson news, the Pirates traded Kris Johnson to the Twins for Duke Welker, who they had previously traded to the Twins for Justin Morneau. This is a pretty minor involving fungible parts, but Johnson is basically a Quadruple-A starter at this point and Welker is a hard-throwing reliever that uses his fastball and slider to generate a good amount of swings and misses, despite the control problems that could limit his usefulness. Anyway, Kris Johnson wasn't likely to make many starts for the Pirates next year (beyond the four starters mentioned above, the possibility of Josh Johnson and/or Burnett, plus Stolmy Pimentel, Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, and Jameson Taillon, Kris Johnson is waaaaay down the depth chart) and so it seems like it's at least worth a shot to bring Welker back into the fold and see if he can make any strides this year.