What does outfielder Austin Jackson have to do to get a job around here? This offseason has seen the likes of Clint Barmes (36), Chris Capuano (37), Travis Snider (28), and Eric Young, Jr (30)a��just to name a handfula��sign minor-league contracts with a chance to make the major league roster during spring training.
Barmes slashed .232/.281/.353 and played in just 98 games last season for the San Diego Padres. Capuano hasn’t pitched all that effectively at the big-league level since about 2012 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but could be useful in a spot-starter/long reliever-type role. Snider holds a career slash line of .244/.311/.399 and is average-at-best defensively.
And finally, there’s Eric Young, Jr. He has essentially been non-existent at the plate from 2013 to the present, remains below average defensively, and stole just six bases while playing in only 53 games last yeara��this after stealing 30 or more in each of the two seasons prior.
So why can’t Jackson, who turned 29 February 1 and experienced a noticeable uptick in various defensive metrics in 2015, land somewhere? With all notable names on the market almost gonea��the Baltimore Orioles are reportedly this close to landing both outfielder Dexter Fowler and starting pitcher Yovani Gallardoa��one would assume that Jackson will sign a relatively cheap deal. To be clear, it wouldn’t be a minor league deala��more likely a one-year, highly incentivized contract. I don’t think even Scott Boras, who represents him, can make a miracle out of this one.
Since his breakout season in 2012 with the Detroit Tigersa��.300/.377/.479; 29 doubles, 10 triples, and 16 home runsa��Jackson has managed to slash just .268/.330/.399. While he’s notched 25 or more doubles in all but one year since, the power numbers have noticeably decreased. After cracking 10 or more home runs from 2011 through 2013, Jackson has combined to hit 13 over the past two years.
But yet, it’s the promise he once held not too long ago, the fact that he’s still relatively young, and his rebound performance defensively that make his largely inactive offseason all the more baffling to me.
The last murmurs surrounding a potential move for the center fielder came about two weeks ago when he was linked to the Cleveland Indiansa��which was purely out of speculation. Before that, January 21 was the last time any team reportedly made contact with Jackson. Before that? He was talked about around Christmas timea��which again, was speculation.
Now let’s look at metrics from both Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs for a moment. In 2012, his aforementioned breakout year, Jackson finished with a WARP (BP) of 5.5 and FRAA (BP) of 5.1. His UZR and UZR/150 (FG) was 3.5 and 4.0. Between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, they averaged out like this:
Last season, Jackson experienced a noticeable uptick in each defensive category:
Each of those numbers are comparable to his defensive production from his first three seasons in the league. Even as recently as 2014, when he played 100 games with Detroit before being traded, Jackson slashed .273/.332/.398 with 25 doubles and five triplesa��showing that he isn’t so far removed from his more promising offensive days.
Jackson is coming off a season that saw him earn $7.7 million. Based on recent production, particularly offensively, I can’t imagine any team paying him nearly that much money over the course of a single season. Perhaps if it was a two-year deal adding up to slightly more than that, or a one-year deal loaded with incentives.
Signing Jackson won’t put any team over the top in terms of contention, but at 29 years old he’s still very much a low-risk, high-reward player to take a flyer on.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs