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Pirates notebook: Team becomes attractive destination for pitchers on rebound

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Blue Jays starting pitcher Josh Johnson gets set to pitch during the first inning against the Angels on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Anaheim, Calif.

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 12:11 a.m.

While the Pirates did not land free-agent pitcher Josh Johnson, who signed with San Diego late Tuesday night, the Pirates were among four finalists for the veteran right-hander, said his agent, Matt Sosnick.

That Johnson was interested in the Pirates is evidence of a residual effect from the Pirates' successful season: The club has become an attractive destination for pitchers seeking to rebuild value.

“I think Pittsburgh was considered, at one time, a total no-go as a destination,” Sosnick said. “I think that Neal (Huntington) and his group there have changed that and that mindset.”

Francisco Liriano was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year in 2013 after the Pirates helped him to become a pitcher who more often threw a strike on his first pitch to each batter and generated more ground balls.

A.J. Burnett improved dramatically in Pittsburgh after struggling in New York. Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, Jeff Locke and Jason Grilli all had career years in 2013.

The Pirates' success in rebuilding pitcher performance is tied to pitching coach Ray Searage and PNC Park, which is among the most difficult venues at which to create runs. The Pirates also employed an inventive defensive plan in 2013 by increasing shifts, and that coupled with a collective improved ground ball rate improved the club's defensive efficiency.

“We have heard from some agents that our track record and reputation makes us an interesting destination for pitchers,” Huntington said.

The Pirates again are focused on finding upside pitchers in the free-agent market, and agents have noticed the Pirates' recent success in helping pitchers.

“They've done a great job as an organization figuring out what pitchers really work well (with) their defense. I think they have figured out that part,” said Charisse Espinosa, the agent for ground ball specialist Roberto Hernandez. “They are going to be in the market for some pitchers this year.”

Adding pitcher would not rule out Burnett

Huntington said adding a significant free-agent pitcher would not preclude the club from signing Burnett, who has yet to inform the team whether he'll retire or pitch in 2014.

McCutchen to present music award

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen announced Wednesday he will be a presenter at the American Music Award at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

It's a continued foray into the music industry for McCutchen, who will team Red Sox slugger David Ortiz as a co-executive producer of a 30-episode series on MTV2.

Pirates sign five minor league free agents

The Pirates announced the signing of five minor league free agents Tuesday, all pitchers, with Jake Brigham, Jay Jackson and Josh Kinney receiving non-roster invites to major league spring training.

The Pirates also signed former major league pitchers Seth McClung and Collin Balester, once a top prospect in the Nationals organization.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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