Bucs’ bounce-back bonanza; Johnson next?

“Our metrics showed him to be a good bounce-back candidate.”

Baseball GMs sure didn’t used to talk like that. But that’s Neal Huntington-speak. And the Pirates GM’s “gobbledygook” has certainly been borne out in selecting The Sporting News’ 2013 NL Comeback Player of the Year.

Have you heard? Francisco Liriano got the nod. But there’s more: Mark Melancon came in second; Marlon Byrd was third. And the voting was by an unimpeachable panel: Fellow Major Leaguers themselves.

How’s that for scoring in an area a medium-market team such as the Bucs depends on, isolating, acquiring and reviving players on the skids elsewhere?

Huntington also did it a year ago with A.J. Burnett.

And I’ve got a pretty good idea of who’s next on his bounce-back bill: Josh Johnson, another fireballer — the Pittsburgh brass loves “big arms” — who is a free agent off a miserable season.

The comparisons to Burnett and Liriano are unmistakeable: A proven track record, a flop in the American League, young enough to get it all back with proper coaching.

Johnson, who will be entering his age-30 season, led the NL with a 2.30 ERA only three years ago and was a two-time All-Star with the Marlins. He spent most of this season on the DL with triceps inflammation and a strained forearm — there’s an injury the Pirates (Wandy Rodriguez, Jason Grilli) know a lot about — and otherwise was 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA for the Blue Jays.

6.20 … where have I seen that before? Oh, yes …. that was Melancon’s ERA with the 2012 Red Sox.

Before Huntington can get serious about Johnson or anyone else, he needs to clear up Burnett’s situation: Does he intend to continue his career and, if so, in Pittsburgh?

If A.J. returns, the Bucs do not figure to be in the market for pitching, given the depth of a rotation that returns Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, Liriano, and likely Rodriguez, with Jameson Taillon on the horizon.

Without Burnett, Huntington will look for a veteran fall-back such as Johnson, a low-risk, high-reward candidate. The GM seems to know a little about the type.

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