This was originally published on my blog, but I thought I would share with a wider audience. Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy.
The White Sox and outfielder Andruw Jones have agreed to a one year, $500,000 contract. Jones can earn another million in performance bonuses. Reports indicate the Jones will not play everyday, instead splitting time as a fourth outfielder and DH.
Aside from some very good offensive years, Jones was the gold standard for center field defense from the time he broke into the big leagues until 2007, routinely saving over 20 runs above average per year with his defense alone at one of the toughest positions. After signing a two-year, $36 million dollar deal with the Dodgers in 2008, Jones had a miserable year at the plate, posting a .505 OPS. and a .234 wOBA, but still gave them average-above average defense.
Jones rebounded offensively with the Rangers in 2009, hitting .214/.323/.459 with .338 wOBA. He mysteriously played just 17 games in the field, 12 in left and 5 in right, though it is worth noting his UZR/150 was 25.5 and 22.9, respectively.
In 2008, Jones was placed on the DL twice with knee problems, and was forced to have surgery the first time around. So was Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels just trying to ease Jones back in, or did Jones defense decline to the point where it was no longer an asset?
If Jones can play an average center field, that is valuable in itself (Chone actually projects a 11.7 UZR in center in 2010). As a corner outfielder, that means he could easily save 10-15 runs per year. Assuming that Jones is more or less the same player offensively as he was in 2009, he would be worth about 3 wins over a full season.
That may not seem like too much, but you are talking about over $10 million in surplus value. Winning teams build championships by surrounding their core, 5-6 win players with cheap, 2-3 win talent.
Of course, that is a big if. Given that Jones’s defensive prowess, was not so much the result of athleticism as it was his baseball smarts and knowing how to take good routes, it would not necessarily be a smooth transition from center to a corner outfield spot.
I think Jones was denied time in the field in Texas, however, because he was in good defensive company. Nelson Cruz is a stud in right field. Josh Hamilton, despite his previous struggles in center field, was very good in limited action this year, and if Hamilton wants to play the outfield, he will play there. Marlon Byrd is an excellent corner outfielder, and was a solid center fielder coming into this year. Over his entire career, David Murphy has been solid in both corners. Julio Borbon, whom the Rangers brought up this year, was known for having outstanding range in the outfield. In fact, the first scouting report that came up on google says:
You know how about three quarters of the world is covered by water? The rest of it is covered by Julio Borbon. He has unbelievable range with his speed, and is capable of making all the routine plays and some of the tough ones. His arm is below average to average at best, but he should be able to stay in center field because of the range.
Of course, you have to hit enough to be on the field to begin with, and Jones had a lot to prove entering last year.
As a starter, Jones is a low-risk, fairly high reward to any team. Off the bench he could prove to be immensely valuable. If the Mets traded Jeff Francoeur, and signed Matt Holliday, I would have loved to see Jones split time with Angel Pagan in right. By doing so, the Mets minimize the risk of Pagan’s otherwise excellent 2009 proving to be a fluke. Not to mention it would give the Mets some excellent depth in the outfield, with Carlos Beltran’s knees in question.
There is a lot not to like about Jones; he has gotten noticeably thicker over the years, strikes out a ton, and his makeup and work ethic have been called into question more than once. The fact that he cannot even secure $1 million this off-season might be saying a lot about his fielding ability.
Plus, if he is an overlooked bargain, I doubt Kenny Williams would be the one to find him. But right now, I wish he was cigar chomping in a suite at Citi Field, and Andruw Jones was patrolling the corners next year.