Towards the end of July, the Mets’ outfield was in a bit of disarray. With both Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce on the shelf, the team was short an outfielder and didn’t have a true center fielder on the roster. Things were so bad that Matt den Dekker was getting significant playing time in center. It was obvious that the Mets needed to add a body just to get through the rest of the season.
Enter Austin Jackson, who had been released by the Texas Rangers earlier in the month, and was available for the league minimum. The Mets signed Jackson to an MLB deal and immediately activated him on July 27. Jackson’s first start for the Mets came two days later in center, and he basically became the regular center fielder from then on. In fact, from the time of his signing to the end of the season, only five Mets received more plate appearances than Jackson over that time: Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, and Todd Frazier.
In his first month with the team, Jackson actually played quite well; so well, in fact, that he looked like he could be a potential piece for 2019. In his first 125 PAs in Flushing, Jackson hit .310/.368/.440, which was good for a 126 wRC+. His defense still left a lot to be desired—the 31-year-old hasn’t been a positive center field defender in quite a few years—but his bat was at least providing positive value to that point.
That didn’t last for long, though. Over the last month of the year, Jackson showed his deficiencies and promptly erased any thoughts of keeping him in the fold for next season. From August 30 to the end of the season, he basically hit like a pitcher, with a .146/.176/.220 line and an 8 wRC+— yes, eight—over 85 PAs. That paltry offense combined with his poor defense and circuitous routes in the outfield rendered him comfortably below replacement level; he was worth -0.7 fWAR in September alone.
For what it’s worth, Jackson’s time with the Mets in 2018 will probably be best remembered for his walkoff hit against the Marlins on David Wright Day. It was easily Jackson’s best moment with the Mets—simply because it mercifully ended a game that had dragged on scoreless for 13 innings and nobody wanted to see it continue.
Jackson finished the season with a 74 wRC+ and -1.0 fWAR combined between the Rangers and Mets. The outfielder has been a below-average hitter in five of the last six seasons, and is no longer a positive defender at any position. If the Mets are still thinking about bringing Jackson back in 2019 to be anything more than minor-league organizational depth, they should look elsewhere.