Since center field is currently the Yankees’ weakest position, we might as well take a look at news involving a soon-to-be-traded center fielder — even though few if any of us would touch him with a 50-foot pole. Via Jon Heyman, we learn that the Dodgers have re-worked their contract with Andruw Jones. The deal will reportedly save them $12 million from their 2009 payroll. More importantly, it will make Jones easier to trade.
According to Cot’s, Jones is scheduled to earn $15 million in salary in 2009. However, the signing bonus from his two-year, $36.2 million deal complicates things a bit. He made $9 million last year plus a $5.1 million signing bonus. That means that despite his $15 million salary, Jones is slated to make $22.1 million for the rest of his contract. He is due a $5 million payment as part of his signing bonus in 2010, even though he won’t be under contract, so that, I guess, won’t count against the Dodgers’ 2009 payroll. That leaves $17.1 million. If the Dodgers did in fact defer $12 million of that, an acquiring team would only be liable for $5.1 million in salary.
Clearly, that’s not the final word on the matter. This is just my elementary understanding, using what I know about salaries and bonuses, how they count against the cap, and parsing the words of Heyman. His “official” salary number for 2009 could be $5.1 million; it could be $10 million. What matters to an acquiring team, though, is that they will not be on the hook for that $22.1 million they otherwise would have been. That makes Jones attractive.
While the Yankees have a need in center, I can’t see them going after Jones. There’s some upside here; Jones was, after all, one of if not the premier center fielder in baseball earlier this decade. He’s a few years removed from that status, though, and he’s done little to show he can regain that form. Among the many criticism of Jones over the past two years has been his lack of a work ethic, leaving him out of shape and an injury risk. While he had remained healthy through most of his career, he spent the bulk of 2008 either on the DL or on the bench.
Reduced salary or not, any team trading for Jones is taking a weighty gamble. The deflated salary number clearly makes this a better risk, but it does nothing to the reward aspect of the deal. Jones is still coming off two abhorrent years, the latter of which placed him among the worst players in the league. The guy who managed to hit a home run every 13.2 plate appearances in 2005 hit one every 79 PAs in 2008. You can’t even play the “contract year” card with Jones, as he hit .222/.311/.413 in his last contract year.
A healthy, in-shape, and motivated Jones could prove an astronomical boost to any team acquiring him, no doubt. However, we’ve seen little to indicate this will be the case. The Dodgers mitigated the risk for an acquiring team by reducing his salary, but that provides no guarantees (obviously, hence the risk involved). The Yankees and their fans might ponder this for a moment or two, but in the end I’m guessing the risk would outweigh the reward.