Jackson not the answer right now


With Brett Gardner shelved until at least mid-August with a broken thumb, the Yankees will need another outfielder. They do have three players on the active roster — Cody Ransom, Eric Hinske, and Hideki Matsui — to spell their three starters, but each is questionable enough defensively to merit an alternative solution. Foremost among the concerns is that it would force Johnny Damon or Nick Swisher into center field to give Melky Cabrera a rest, an option the Yankees don’t seem comfortable with, and rightly so. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many alternatives to back up Melky in center.

Every mildly curious Yankees fan has pondered the option of promoting Austin Jackson from AAA Scranton to temporarily fill in. He’s one of the Yankees most promising prospects, and he’s one of the few players in the system who could play center field in the majors. It’s understandable that fans would want to see him get a shot in the majors, especially considering his successful season so far: .311/.375/.429 with 17 steals in 19 attempts.

The rules also favor the Yankees. By adding Jackson to the 40-man roster the Yankees will start his service time clock, but that’s of little concern at this point in the season. The more pressing concern is the use of a minor league option. There wouldn’t seem to be room on the roster for Jackson once Gardner returns, so they would have to burn an option by returning him to Scranton. But Gardner’s best case return time is 25 days, which would be August 19. Rosters expand on September 1, so if the Yankees optioned Jackson then he’d be in the minors for fewer than 20 days. Thus, the option would not be used.

(The Yankees did this with Brian Bruney in 2007, though they recalled him before rosters expanded. He went down on August 7 when Joba came up, and was recalled a bit later in the month. But because he wasn’t in the minors for 20 days the Yankees did not burn an option.)

The problem with adding Jackson is that they’d have to play him nearly every day. Is that something they should be committed to at this point? There is a little over two months left in the season and the AL East is anything but decided. Committing to Jackson might mean putting a black hole in the nine spot regularly. Since they’ll be playing against other American League teams, they need not hamper themselves with a pitcher’s spot — and worse on days that Jose Molina plays.

Not playing Jackson would be a complete waste. He’d be better off getting regular at bats in Scranton, and the team wouldn’t be that much better with him in reserve. They could always option him if the experiment failed, but then they would not only possibly trigger an option year, depending on when they pull the plug, but would also have to clear another 40-man spot to add a replacement outfielder. Those are considerably costs, and perhaps ones the Yankees should not be willing to risk.

There are legitimate concerns about Jackson’s ability to handle major league pitching right now. Two major points of debate over Jackson are his strikeouts and his batting average on balls in play. Of the former, he has 89 strikeouts in 347 at bats this season. How will he handle major league pitchers if AAA pitchers set him down frequently via the swing and miss? Of the latter, his BABIP is .407, which he certainly will not be able to replicate at the big league level. That could cause a massive drop-off in all of his numbers.

Jackson has also struggled lately, as he’s mired in a .167/.244/.194 slump over the past 14 days (not counting Sunday’s 0 for 3 performance). The Yankees did promote Jackson back in 2007 while he was hitting just .260/.336/.374 in Charleston, and he responded by tearing the Florida State League to shreds in the second half, hitting .345/.398/.556 over the final 67 games. But the Yankees can’t expect that to happen again. The expectations for immediate performance, given Jackson’s recent struggles, his general strikeout tendencies, and his high BABIP, would have to be rather low.

Few doubt Austin Jackson’s talent and potential to be a solid major leaguer in the future. He’s handled each promotion since 2007 relatively well, and has continued to perform over the course of the 2009 season. The Yankees might be attracted by the prospect of adding him to their outfield, but there is enough working against the move that they shouldn’t make it at this point. This could mean having to see Johnny Damon in center field once or twice over the next 30 or so days while Melky mans the position full-time. Those costs would seem to be less than those of promoting Austin Jackson and having the experiment fail.

What should the Yankees do, then? There are a few internal options, though few could play a passable center field. It looks like John Rodriguez, Shelley Duncan, Ramiro Pena, or a trade for a player who can man center. In any case, I wouldn’t bet on it being Austin Jackson. As much as I’d love to see the kid in the Bronx, it doesn’t seem like the right move for the Yankees right now.

Categories : Minors


  1. Simon B. says:

    They wouldn’t absolutely need to burn an option.

    Gardner’s out at least two weeks, and we’re only about 5 weeks from when the rosters expand. They could continue to carry Jackson for whatever margin of time between when Gardner is activated and the roster expansion fairly reasonable. It’s not too much of a burden to carry one fewer pitcher.

    Not that I necessarily disagree with you to hold off on his promotion, but it certainly seems intriguing.

    • whozat says:

      “They wouldn’t absolutely need to burn an option.”

      They explicitly addressed this point. The only way an option year would be triggered would be if he pulled a Melky 2005 and they sent him back down before August 10th. You’re saying they could avoid that by just keeping him on the bench to rot. That sucks too.

      There’s just not a high enough probability of enough upside to make bringing him up intriguing.

      • Simon B. says:

        I scanned over part of that, but I don’t see what makes it less possible. If Gardner’s best case scenario is August 19th, that leaves a maximum margin of 12 days where Gardner and Jackson are there at the same time before the rosters expand.

        Is it that important for Ajax to spend those 12 days playing everyday in the minors?

        And I don’t see why his a tiny slump is that much cause for dismissal of this idea either.

        I’m not convinced its the right thing to do either, but it sure would be fun, and it doesn’t sound that dumb to me.

        • whozat says:

          “Is it that important for Ajax to spend those 12 days playing everyday in the minors?”

          You’re missing the point.

          Potential downsides of bringing Jackson up now:
          - Sitting on the bench while Melky plays most days is a waste of development time
          - Playing him every day over the (at least) replacement-level Cabrera could hurt the team
          - He could be SO BAD that they’d want to send him back to the minors and burn an option year. (likelihood of this is mitigated by Gardner’s potential return date)

          Potential upsides:
          - He _could_ be better than Melky for the next three weeks. The likelihood of this is mitigated by the fact that he’s a rookie and that he is slumping right now.
          - it’d be “fun”

  2. Tony says:

    I’d like to see him get some time, but it honestly doesn’t matter very much. However, his 2 week slump shouldn’t be a factor at all.

    • whozat says:

      Why not? Calling him up during a slump decreases the likelihood of immediate returns, which is really the only reason to call him up.

      • Tony says:

        The slump could just as easily end tomorrow. That’s a bad way to make this kind of decision.

        • whozat says:

          I’m not making this kind of decision based on the slump.

          I am, however, refusing to ignore a slump because maybe it could end maybe.

          The point is that the only reason to call him up is because we think he might be better than Melky and we want to play him every day. The fact that he is currently slumping makes it less likely that he will immediately contribute. At this point in the season, benching Melky to play Jackson every day carries a fair amount of risk. The fact that he’s slumping right now makes it (admittedly slightly) more likely that he will NOT provide much useful offense. Frankly, the issues of adjusting to the big leagues are by far the biggest factor in making me think that he will not be an offensive plus in CF just yet.

          But the slump doesn’t help.

        • Charles says:

          Talking about a slump that AJax is in is nonesense. How soon we forget. Cervelli was batting .190 at Trenton when he was called up. He was the preferred catcher for most of the starters even when Pasoda returned and he batted a very respectable .260 with several clutch hits during his stay.

          He brought poise, energy and confidence to the clubhouse. AJax could do the same. Forget about this so called slump. Keep it real.

  3. Brooklyn Ed says:

    how about Justin Leone? that dude could seriously play every position besides catch.

  4. NaOH says:

    Of the four internal candidates – John Rodriguez, Shelley Duncan, Ramiro Pena, and Austin Jackson – Pena is the only one on the 40-man roster. All the others would have to be added to the 40-man roster, but that’s not problematic since the team can simply transfer Nady to the 60-day DL to free up a roster spot. Likewise, they may have another spot on the roster should Wang officially be shelved for the year, at which point they can put him on the 60-day DL.

    The biggest issue doesn’t seem to be short-term roster flexibility, it’s balancing the short-term, win-now goals of the team against the long-term risks, financial implications, and service-time rules as they apply to young players like Jackson and Rodriguez.

    Since Rodriguez is on the DL and Duncan isn’t a centerfielder, if they’re going to call someone up, I’d expect it to be Pena.

  5. Jamal G. says:

    Melky Cabrera since June 19th: .282/.361/.435; 14:9 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

    Just wanted to reinforce the point that there is no way the Yankees would call up Austin Jackson to start in order to give him regular playing time, or even as a platoon option.

  6. Charlie says:

    Maybe he wouldn’t be great, but a trade seems unnecessary, j-rod and shelley would be about as good or worse in center than swisher, and pena just started playing there. i see your reasoning in not wanting to promote ajax, but the other options aren’t all that enticing.

    • whozat says:

      “j-rod and shelley would be about as good or worse in center than swisher”

      Slow down…this is completely false. Swisher has above average range in RF. These other guys don’t. Not that Swisher is a good CFer. He’s not. But these other guys would be worse.

      • Charlie says:

        huh? dude, i said “as good or worse”, with as good being the absolute best possibility (i haven’t seen them play center). They probably are worse than swisher in center. i am not suggesting that they would be adequate CFers, cause they wouldn’t be.

  7. Greg G. says:

    The SWB website has J-Rod on the 7-day DL. The thought of Shelley in center scares me. Pena would be okay, if he had had more time to get used to the position (right now, the “Enrique Wilson-to-the-outfield” scenario scares me.)

    Can Curtis play center?

    • Greg G. says:

      And to echo Jamal above, it seems that all they need is backup for Melky for the next 3-4 weeks.

    • Charlie says:

      I’m pretty sure curtis can play center, and he’s been kinda hot lately. Not sure if he’s worth a spot on the 40 man, but i like the idea

    • Greg G. says:

      Meh…forget this post. I just looked up Curtis’ stats.

      Call up Pena…use him in CF only in case of emergency.

      • Jeffrey says:

        Regardless of Pena’s experience in center he is the best guy to come up since he would provide extra flexibility to the Yankees.

        He has a SS arm and quite a bit of speed so I’m confident he could play a good CF if needed.

  8. BigBlueAL says:

    I say promote Pena because he gives the Yankees the most flexibility besides possibly playing CF he gives them a pinch-runner and of course another infielder.

    • whozat says:

      I say I’d rather have Pena playing CF in AAA so that, if we need someone long-term, he’s got more experience out there.

      The problem we’re looking at is what to do on the days a 24 year old needs off and if he goes down mid-game.

  9. Greg G. says:

    Swisher has played CF before, right? I know he didn’t like it when he was with Chicago, but it would seem to me that in a pinch he could do it without causing the universe to fold in on itself.

  10. gxpanos says:

    Can’t Swish be Melky’s back-up? The Yanks all year have been blessed with two above average CF’s (defensively). But Swisher is the best fielding CF they have other than AJax, who, I agree, should not come up. Call up Shelley or Rodriguez and if Melky needs a day off you put Swish in CF and the new guy in RF.

    Trading for someone would be dumb.

    It’s not ideal, but it’s only for what, 3 weeks?

    • Charlie says:

      I agree, though i’m not sure how good swish is in center. And hinske would be in RF on melky’s day off, with new guy on the bench.

    • whozat says:

      Well, depends on what the trade is. I wouldn’t mind making a move to get a plus-defending CFer to stash at AAA.

      • gxpanos says:

        Yeah, you’re right. Trading for someone as such isn’t stupid. I should have said it wasn’t really feasible. A plus-fielding CF to stash afterward would be nice, but I can’t think of anyone they’d target.

  11. Charlie says:

    Can Jesus Montero play center??

  12. Ant says:

    What about acquiring someone like Corey Paterson? He’s currently in the Nationals AAA and could probably be extremely cheap. I know he doesn’t hit but he can play about average CF and with out offense we can handle him in the 9th spot for acouple games.

  13. Charlie says:

    todd linden would have been good for this job. why the hell did we sell him to japan?

  14. ledavidisrael says:

    Also I don’t see the harm in giving melky time off in the next three weeks and letting the kid get his feet wet. Even if its simply reward for a great start to the season.

    You can just as easily option him down, if he remains in this slump.

    Anyone can perform well in such a small sample size.

    I don’t see the problem as long as they tell him to go out their and catch the ball. I think this team cares alot more about defense and having damon playing CF should be a no go.

    • ledavidisrael says:

      They should approach him and explain that they want him to just see how things are done on the major league level and they don’t want to leave the club short of players who can play CF.

      Hopefully it will be a change of pace that he gets amped up for and he performs.

    • ChrisS says:


  15. Trent says:

    How about making a trade with the Mariners for Endy Chavez. He is a lefty batting .273 with nine stolen bases. A no-risk high-reward trade. Would have to designate someone probably though.

  16. Trent says:

    Willie Taveras is an interesting choice as well although you might have to give a little more up for this guy.

  17. Jon G says:

    I like the idea of calling up Pena — he essentially replaces Gardner’s speed as a pinch runner and potential centerfielder, though he’d likely play CF only if needed.

    Which begs the question — if he can be emergency CF backup PLUS infield backup, why not send down Ransom, who’s batting .200, for someone with a bit more pop?

    Hopefully Gardner will be back quickly – he has been a great addition this year.

    The possibility of bringing up AJAX could end up being a success. The memory of the big home run he hit against the Red Sox in Spring Training sticks with me… But I’m guessing we don’t see him until September.

  18. RollingWave says:

    I’m fairly sure Pena makes the most sense. and it spare us of the horror of Cody Ransom : Middle infielder . as well.

    I think they should call up Pena + Shelley and send Cody packing.

    • I Remember Celerino Sanchez says:

      Shelley Duncan’s career triple slash:


      Cody Ransom’s career triple slash:


      Not exactly an improvement.

      I don’t really get the fascination so many people have with Shelley. Yes, he rakes in AAA, but in the Majors, he has not been able to produce.

  19. Chip says:

    Just bring up Pena to play center. In fact, I’d bring up Pena and Shelley and DFA Ransom. If we’re behind late, you can pinch-hit Shelley for Melky and then let Pena pinch-hit for him. I just love his power potential off the bench and yes I realize he can’t hit a breaking ball but he seems to have learned to not swing at them in AAA :D

  20. rzg says:

    The need is someone who can replace a corner outfielder for DEFENSIVE purposes (you want Damon out there 9 innings a game everyday?) and maybe some pinch running. Swisher can be the backup to CF. If the player can play a decent CF then Melky can switch to a corner once in a while to rest Damon. A RH bat would be nice.

    I’ll let you guys decide who that player should be.

  21. steve s says:

    I don’t agree with the notion that you need to play Jackson every day otherwise he’s better off getting his regular at-bats in the minors. A 3 week stint in the majors is not going to seriously hurt his development, he’d basically would be a CF caddy/pinch runner and a spot starter to give Melky a blow and, in best case scenario, perhaps you catch lightning in a bottle and little drop-off in performance from what you were getting from Gardner. Worst case is he’s a bit overwhelmed offensively(speed and defense will still be fine) so you use him more sparingly than intended but you give him a taste of being in a pennant race a la Jeter and Posada in the mid 90′s.

  22. DSFC says:

    It is astonishing to me that anyone wants Duncan back. He simply cant hit a breaking ball, and he is an atrocious outfielder too.

  23. DaveinMD says:

    They wouldn’t have to play him every day. Plenty of young players started as platoon players. They could do that with him.

  24. JohnC says:

    I agree Pena should be the guy brought up, not Jackson. He needs to be playing every day and keep getting at bats at Scranton, not coming up and sitting on the bench. Pena has been up and had some success already, and he is a gifted enough defensively to handle the outfield if he is put there.

  25. [...] tend to agree with the guys over at River Ave. Blues that this is not the ideal time to call-up Jackson — this has probably been his worst stretch of [...]

  26. Tank Foster says:

    What’s wrong with playing Melky full time in CF? For 2 weeks, I’d bring up Shelley Duncan if he can play LF or RF.

    Bringing up Jackson would be a huge mistake. It’s way too early and he’s in a major slump. No way.

  27. JoeX says:

    They’ve been looking unsuccessfully for a true CF since Bernie. Good timing to get V. Wells and Halladay. I know his contract sucks, but if we can train or convert someone in the minors to CF, why can’t we fix him. Seems the Yanks game attitude alone might cure his woes, unless he has an injury I haven’t read about.

    • V says:

      I would rather play Melky than Vernon Wells. He’s already better, and still has room for improvement. Wells is done. That contract is ridiculous.

      The Yankees DON’T have an unlimited wallet, despite what the media tells you. Wells would hamstring them for years.

    • He does have an injury you haven’t heard about. It’s his contract. He’s got a severely sprained contract.

      It’s really bad. Nobody’s ever come back from a contract sprain that bad. Dr. James Andrews couldn’t even fix it. It’s terminal. His contract is a terminal illness.

    • RollingWave says:

      your grasping at straws and throwing in 120 millions to bet on it. that’s a great idea.

      In reality, the Jays need to trade 2 to 3 Doc Halladay for it to be realistically worth while to take Vernon Wells contract. that’s just how bad it is .

      • In reality, the Jays need to trade 2 to 3 Doc Halladay for it to be realistically worth while to take Vernon Wells contract. that’s just how bad it is .

        Good point.

        I won’t take Vernon Wells’s contract just to get Doc Halladay for free. If they want me to take Vernon Wells off their hands, I need Doc Halladay, Aaron Hill, Travis Snider, and Ricky Romero, and you’re not getting a prospect back, JP… THAT’S how bad Wells’s deal is.

    • Spaceman.Spiff says:

      Factoring in defense, Melky is a better CF than Vernon Wells right now. And paying Vernon Wells, Carlos Beltran-money is no fun either. And it’ll still take a ton to get Halladay, a move we don’t have to make.

  28. cuponoodles says:

    I really don’t see the big problem with calling up A-Jax. Considering the Yankees need a defensive replacement in center field, and probably someone to replace Gardner’s speed as a pinch runner/defensive replacement late in games, Jackson is a perfect fit. It’s only about 4-5 weeks, so you give him a start once a week and then use him situationally as a defensive replacement late in games and/or serving as a pinch runner. Who knows? Maybe he’ll kill the ball while he’s up there too…

    • Klemy says:

      While I’d like to think that a promotion would give AJax a spark out of his slump, the chances just aren’t good for that to happen. I would like to watch him play too, but the odds aren’t that he’ll take off if brought up.

      Maybe there is something to be said for the time spent with the big league club though? The experience of the division race and playing with the talent around him might be what he needs to step it up? I don’t expect it, but some people thrive on that.

      I’m so conflicted!

  29. JoeX says:

    I only see him when he plays against the Yanks. seems like he kills us. In a couple of months we drop Damon, Matsui and Nady. We could bring up Ajax or go after Holiday for LF or put Ajax in CF and Wells in LF. I assume Melky would go in the trade but Swisher and Gardner could intechange as RF and OF4.

    • Use the reply button, please. It makes the conversation much better.


      Vernon Wells, before signing his contract extension (02-06):
      18 WAR in 5 seasons (3.6 wins above replacement per season)

      Vernon Wells since signing his 7yr/126M contract extension (07-09):
      0.9 WAR in 3 seasons (0.3 wins above replacement per season)

      Melky Cabrera, career (05-09):
      2.7 WAR in 5 seasons (0.54 wins above replacement per season)

      The Blue Jays are paying 18M per season for the production they could probably get from Shelley Duncan. He’s just not the same player anymore (either that, or he’s in the worst three-year slump ever.)

      • JoeX says:

        Problem is everyone compares the heads-up. They are not the primary motive here. Gaining Halladay leaps over Sox and Phillys in post season likelyhood. For 2 WSs. Post season income will make Wells’ contract look like chump change. Also, if Halladay makes 2 post season trips, why would he sign anywhere else. As it stands we are now the team we should have been last year. CC and AJ are plugged in for Moose and Wang and call-ups are filling last years holes. In a couple of monthes we will need to fill in 2 SP, Wang and Andy, and a leadoff, Damon, a DH, Matsui, and an OF, Nady. Why not make some moves now that can help put this team over the top.

        • The Halladay issue is secondary. We can’t add Vernon Wells’s contract without first getting rid of someone else’s contract, and then not adding any more contracts for the next 5 years.

          This isn’t trading for Nick Swisher and his 5M salary, this is Vernon Wells making 12.5M in 2010, 23M in 2011, 21M in 2012, 21M in 2013, 21M in 2014.

          Adding Vernon Wells means we don’t add J.J. Hardy, or Joe Mauer, or Felix Hernandez, or any of the rest of those guys when they hit the market. It means letting Hughes and Joba walk (provided they’re still here) when they hit free agency because we’re already maxed out with our 220M payroll.

          You’re mortgaging the future. Vernon Wells dramatically decreases our ability to field a competitive team. He negates the positive benefit we get from Halladay.

          Wells is a horrible, horrible acquisition. It would be our worst trade acquisition EVER.

        • RollingWave says:

          contrary to popular belive, the Yankees do not have an infinite budget, Signing Vernon Wells all but guarentees that.

          A. we will be playing Melky or Shelley in LF for the next 5 year
          B. we will be DHing Miranda / Vazquez / Duncan for the next 5 year
          C. we will NOT extend Roy Halladay.

  30. Bo says:

    If he’s not going to play everyday there is no chance they bring him up.

  31. Bo says:

    This may go down as the funniest thread of the season.

    You have people actually saying the Yanks should acquire Willy Taveras, Corey patterson, and Endy Chavez. And they are serious.

  32. [...] Joseph Pawlikowski from River Ave. Blues wrote, calling him up now could possibly hinder his development. He said, rightly so, that if Ajax [...]

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