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Blue Jays sign former IL MVP Johnson to minor-league deal

By Mike Harrington

A big potential signing for the Bisons today as the Toronto Blue Jays announced they have signed veteran first baseman Dan Johnson to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League spring training.

Johnson, 34, spent most of last season with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before finishing the year with five games for the Norfolk Tides. Combined, the left-handed slugger hit .250 with 26 doubles, 21 home runs and 70 RBI in 138 games. He also led the league with 96 walks (to only 85 strikeouts).

Johnson has been one of the top sluggers in the International League since 2008 with four teams. He was the IL MVP for Durham in 2010 after hitting .303 and leading the league with 31 home runs, a .430 on-base pct. and a .624 slugging pct. in 98 games.

Johnson has finished in the Top 10 in home runs in the IL four times since 2008, leading the league in 2012 with 28 for Charlotte. He was an IL all-star in 2010 and won the league’s Home Run Derby. He also played in the 2012 Triple-A All-Star Game at Coca-Cola Field (for Charlotte) and finished second in the Home Run Derby behind Bisons slugger Valentino Pascucci.

In his eight-year Major League career, Johnson has played in 416 combined games with Oakland, Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. He has hit .236 with 59 doubles, 56 home runs and 194 RBI for his big league career.

Johnson is best known for the video at the top of this post -- a dramatic bottom of the ninth, two-out, two-strike home run for Tampa Bay on the last day of the 2011 season. It forged a 7-7 tie with the Yankees in a game the Rays would win in the 11th and helped them nose out Boston for the AL wild-card. 

Manager of the Year awards go today -- Farrell and Who?

By Mike Harrington

The BBWAA Awards continue tonight at 6 on MLB Network with the announcement of the Managers of the Year. (Go to this link after the vote to see all the ballots)

In the American League, the heavy favorite would appear to be Boston's John Farrell -- although I remind you the vote is taken before the postseason. Still, going from last place to 97 wins should get Farrell the nod over Cleveland's Terry Francona and Oakland's Bob Melvin.

You would think Pittsburgh's Clint Hurdle is a similar heavy favorite in the National League, although Atlanta's Fredi Gonzalez and Los Angeles' Don Mattingly both won their divisions and Hurdle's Pirates were the NL wild-card. Still, I would have voted for Hurdle for leading the Bucs to October after 20 straight losing seasons. That should be an interesting vote.

What are your thoughts? Vote in our polls.

 

Rookie of the Year nods come tonight to open BBWAA Awards

By Mike Harrington

The winners of the Baseball Writers' Association of America awards will be announced this week during prime-time shows on MLB Network that run from 6-7 p.m. (Full disclosure: I am a BBWAA member and was one of the voters for American League Rookie of the Year).

The three finalists for each award in each league were previously announced the winners will be announced during each live telecast.

The schedule is as follows (click on each link for the finalists):

Tonight: AL Rookie of the Year announced at 6:18, NL Rookie at 6:48
Tuesday: NL Manager of the Year, 6:18, AL Manager at 6:48
Wednesday: AL Cy Young, 6:18, NL Cy Young at 6:48
Thursday: AL MVP, 6:18, NL MVP 6:48.

As a voter for the AL Rookie award, I cannot reveal my vote until the award is announced. The finalists in alphabetical order are Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer, Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias (who opened the season in Boston) and Tampa Bay outfielder Wil Myers.

The NL finalists are Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez, St. Louis pitcher Shelby Miller and Los Angeles outfielder Yasiel Puig. If I had an NL vote, I would give mine to Fernandez, who is going to get plenty of Cy Young votes after going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 187 strikeouts this year for a terrible team.

(7 p.m. update: Myers and Fernandez were the winners. I voted Iglesias-Myers-Archer. You can see all the votes, including mine, at this link)

Make your picks for Rookie of the Year in our polls:

Stunner from Atlanta: Braves ditching downtown for new suburban park in 2017

By Mike Harrington

On Veterans Day no less, the Atlanta Braves unveiled a new Web site this morning at Homeofthebraves.com and it provides information on a stunning announcement that I had seen just about zero rumor of: They are leaving Turner Field and downtown Atlanta following the 2016 season for a new ballpark to be built in suburban Cobb County and opened in 2017.

The Braves have been downtown since they arrived from Milwaukee in 1966, first at Fulton County Stadium and then at Turner Field. The current facility, located in the parking lot of the old one, was converted from the Olympic track and field stadium and opened for baseball in 1997.

The team, however, says Turner Field needs hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades. In addition, traffic in Atlanta is a nightmare and access and parking have become major issues. The team has three years left on its lease and will play those out before moving to its new home, which is says will operate with ancilliary events and development 365 days a year.

It will also likely produce plenty of revenue for the team as well that could be turned back into baseball's free agent market. Pretty interesting longterm ramifications.

Jeter re-signs for a raise -- but Yankees have a good reason

By Mike Harrington

Now that we're in the post-World Series period, the action should be coming fast and furious with teams making decisions on their free agents, their manager and their rosters in general. Teams have a five-day window to chat with their own, and players can then shop their services starting Tuesday.

(Remember, Bud Selig & Co. frown on any of this news taking away attention from the Fall Classic, so teams are told to stuff a sock in it until the Series is decided).

An unusual story came out of New York today with the announcement the Yankees have signed Derek Jeter to a one-year, $12 million contract -- even though he had a player option for next year for just $9.5 million. So what gives? Simple. If Jeter exercised his option, the Yankees would be charged roughly $15.5 million toward their payroll ceiling that figures luxury tax payments.

They want to avoid the tax and get under a $189 million payroll and paying Jeter $12 million actually saves them $3.5 million (and perhaps many millions more in taxes) while giving their longtime shortstop an extra $2.5 million inn his pocket.

No one knows if this will be Jeter's farewell tour, ala Mariano Rivera. But he played just 17 games this season, totaling 73 plate appearances in the wake of his broken ankle suffered in the 2012 ALCS against the Tigers. It was far and away the most frustrating season of what had been a brilliant career.

Jeter turns 40 on June 26. (Yes, Derek Jeter turns 40. We're all getting old.) Can he really be considered an everyday shortstop anymore? The Yankees need him for PR value for sure and they're probably curious if he'll be able to put together a huge bounceback season. That said, the deal makes sense for them. It's not just let's give a 40-year-old a raise even though he basically didn't play last season.

Meanwhile, the most interesting managerial candidate to watch is Red Sox bench coach and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo, who should now be talking to the Cubs, Tigers and Mariners with the season complete.

I chatted with Lovullo last week in St. Louis and you if you missed my Inside Baseball column on him in Sunday's editions, click here to double-back on his story.  Lovullo managed in Pawtucket while working under current Cubs GM Theo Epstein and broke into the big leagues with the Tigers, who are definitely interested as well. Taking over a playoff team with a legendary manager like Jim Leyland figures to be a tough task. As a first-time manager, Lovullo might be better suited with a rebuild like the Cubs.

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About Inside Pitch

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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