Steve Johnson drawing interest from Phillies and Mariners

SAN DIEGO - A sportswriter’s hearing is tested each December by his ability to decipher the “buzz” from the hotel lobby at the annual Winter Meetings.

The sound usually comes from executives, scouts and agents who pass along rumors and shared discussions. Reporters swap information, as well.

Most of the Orioles talk, separate from the Dan Duquette drama, centers on their search for outfield, bullpen and catching depth. They have a few free agents of their own that they’d like to bring back, including Delmon Young, who would give them a legitimate bat for the designated hitter role and coming off the bench.

Catcher Nick Hundley also remains on their radar while he seeks more at-bats in another organization.

johnson-s-profile-sidebar.jpgAlmost forgotten is local product Steve Johnson, a minor league free agent who was outrighted on Oct. 24 to create an opening on the 40-man roster. Johnson continues to rehab from surgery to shave down a spur behind his right shoulder, and I get the impression that the Orioles want to keep him in the organization.

It may not be so simple.

Since my arrival at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, I’ve heard that the Phillies and Mariners are among the teams with interest in Johnson, who went 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 games as a rookie in 2012.

The Phillies have tried to acquire Johnson in the past and he could remain close to home by signing with them. Their Triple-A affiliate is based in the Lehigh Valley area in Pennsylvania. They figure to bring more appeal than a West Coast team, though he’s not going to close the door on anyone at this point.

Don’t forget that former Orioles executive Scott Proefrock is an assistant general manager with the Phillies and former Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan serves as Philadelphia’s director of player development.

If the Orioles intend to keep Johnson, they may want to take him off the back burner to avoid getting scorched. Or something along those lines.

It would make sense for the Orioles to sign Johnson, 27, to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training and invite him to the January minicamp, where he could throw for manager Buck Showalter. They would need to determine whether he still profiles as a starter or multi-inning reliever. Either way, he could be an asset if healthy in 2015.

There’s always an open seat on the Triple-A shuttle.

In former Orioles news, pitcher Jason Hammel reportedly has agreed to a two-year, $18 million contract with the Cubs that includes a team option for 2017 with a $2 million buyout.

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