Andruw Jones to sign with team in Japan

According to a Nikkan Sports report passed along by NPB Tracker, Andruw Jones is set to sign a one-year contract worth approximately $3.5M with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. The team has since confirmed the agreement.

Jones, 35, had a strong first half but a miserable second half with the Yankees this season, finishing with a .197/.294/.408 (89 wRC+) batting line overall. He blamed the poor finish on a finger injury. Jones has pounded left-handed pitching in recent years (123 wRC+ since 2010) and I’m surprised he didn’t generate more interest among MLB teams. I’m sure more than a few clubs would have brought him to camp on a minor league contract, but I guess Andruw wanted the guaranteed deal. He’s arguably the most high-profile big leaguer to ever leave MLB for Japan.

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What Went Wrong: Andruw Jones

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

A year ago, the Yankees had one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball. Andruw Jones signed a one-year contract prior to the season and hit .247/.356/.495 (133 wRC+) in 222 plate appearances while destroying lefties (152 wRC+) and playing adequate defense in the outfield corners. The Yankees brought him back for 2012 on the exact same contract (one year, $2M) and hoped for similar production. They instead got much less.

Jones, 35, was actually very good in the first half, which I know is easy to forget. He went on a four-homers-in-three-games rampage in Fenway Park in early-July and carried a .244/.326/.535 batting line with eleven homers in 144 plate appearances into the All-Star break. Jones was hitting almost exactly as he had last year for the first three months of this season and for the most part no one paid him much attention. He was doing what he was supposed to do off the bench.

Andruw homered against the Blue Jays in the third game after the All-Star break and then simply stopped hitting. He fell into a 6-for-44 (.136) slump before hitting a big game-tying homer off Derek Holland on August 16th, but that was followed by a 3-for-27 (.111) stretch. Jones hit a pinch-hit homer against the Twins in the 154th game of the season, but at that point he’d lost his job as a designated outfield lefty masher. Ichiro Suzuki was playing left field everyday and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were taking turns at DH against lefties.

From July 18th, the day after that homer against Blue Jays, through the end of the season, Jones went just 14-for-99 (.141) with 27 strikeouts, including 11-for-74 (.149) with 18 strikeouts against left-handers. Arguably worse than the offense was the defense, as Andruw looked disinterested and often dogged it on balls hit into the gaps. I’m not normally one to question a player’s effort level, but with Jones it was an obvious problem. No one ever expected him to defend like he did during his days with the Braves, but sheesh. He provided nothing with the glove.

One year after having one of baseball’s best reverse outfielders, the Yankees received a .197/.294/.408 (89 wRC+) batting line out of Jones in 269 plate appearances this season. They left him off the playoff roster in favor of Brett Gardner, who had a total of three at-bats to his credit after coming off a season-long DL stint. After the season, Andruw said he played the second half with a finger injury suffered while sliding for a ball against Toronto immediately after the break, which fits the timetable of his offensive collapse and seems like a completely plausible explanation. It’s not enough to excuse his performance, however.

Outfield Notes: Melky, Ichiro, Andruw, Upton

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

The Yankees need a right fielder and maybe a fourth outfielder depending on how they feel about Chris Dickerson and Melky Mesa, so let’s round up the latest on the outfield search…

  • At least five teams have already shown interest in Melky Cabrera, but the Yankees (and Mets) aren’t one of them. Given the team’s emphasis on makeup and character, I’m guessing they’ll steer clear of the Melkman following his PED fiasco. [Joel Sherman]
  • Brian Cashman said there is nothing new going on with Ichiro Suzuki, though he did acknowledge talking to his agent. The Yankees are reportedly open to re-signing Ichiro and he “strongly wants to stay” with the team. [Chad Jennings]
  • Unsurprisingly, Cashman hasn’t spoken to Scott Boras about bringing Andruw Jones back. The 35-year-old wants to keep playing, but the Yankees figure to go in a different direction after his miserable second half. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • Still nothing on Justin Upton; the Yankees are apparently not involved in any trade talks for the Diamondbacks outfielder. [Jon Heyman]

Twelve Yankees hit free agency

A total of 137 players around the league officially hit free agency today, including a dozen Yankees: Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nick Swisher. Rafael Soriano can join them if he opts out of his contract by Wednesday’s deadline, which seems likely. Feliciano’s inclusion in the list of free agents is an indication that the Yankees have already declined his $4.5M club option. That is not surprising at all after the left-hander threw zero meaningful pitches during his time in pinstripes.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, players don’t even have to file for free agency anymore. They just hit the open market. I never understood the point of that anyway. Players are free to sign with new teams starting Saturday. Click here for the full offseason schedule.

Jones blames second half on finger injury, wants to play four more years

Via George King: Andruw Jones blamed his miserable second half on a finger injury suffered after the All-Star break. “I did it diving for a ball against Toronto at home,” he said. “Hands and fingers are tough.”

The Yankees played the Blue Jays in the second series after the break, which I guess is when it happened. Either way, the 34-year-old Jones hit .244/.326/.535 with eleven homers in the first half before dropping down to .142/.256/.255 with three homers in the second half. He was so bad, even against lefties, that the Yankees left him off the playoff roster. Jones also told King that he hopes to play another four years, but I doubt any of them will be in the Bronx.

Thoughts following the doubleheader sweep

(Al Bello/Getty)

After going nearly a month without consecutive wins, the Yankees won two games in the span of about nine hours yesterday. They’ve also won four straight, six of seven, and nine of 13. If the Mariners had been something other than pitiful these last two nights, the division lead would be two or three games instead of just one. But hey, I’ll take the one-game lead. Better than being one back.

1. I don’t want to make too much of one game (one day, really), but man it would be such a huge lift if Ichiro Suzuki got hot and became a more consistent offensive threat these next few weeks. No one is asking him to go 4-for-4 with four steals every game — he’s more than welcome to do that, if he wants — but something more than the three or four hits a week he was providing would be nice. Prior to yesterday Ichiro had only been 6-for-9 in stolen base attempts with New York, so adding some more speed to the offense would be appreciated as well. He was awesome on Wednesday and I hope he builds on it going forward.

2. Ichiro started against the left-handed Ricky Romero last night because it appears that Joe Girardi has finally run out of patience with Andruw Jones. He’s been dreadful in the second half (.137/.250/.225 in 120 plate appearances), and that sure looked like his last pinch-hitting hurrah in Game One. When Girardi needed a right-hander off the bench with the go-ahead run on third and the left-handed Aaron Loup on the mound in Game Two, he went to Steve Pearce. If he’s not hitting, especially against lefties, there won’t be any reason to carry Andruw on the postseason roster should the Yankees qualify.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

3. Speaking of not making the potential postseason roster, what about Raul Ibanez? He’s only been slightly less useless than Jones since the All-Star break, putting up a .190/.287/.356 line in 143 plate appearances. Remember when Hideki Matsui fell into a slump and every single at-bat was a weak ground ball to second? That’s Ibanez now, everything is weakly hit to the right side. He could just be worn down from playing the field so much earlier in the year or he could just be completely done, but at some point soon the Yankees will have to pull the plug on the other half of their preseason DH platoon. There isn’t much season left and neither guy is getting it done.

4. It goes without saying that the biggest positive development from yesterday was Andy Pettitte. He wasn’t sharp, but he still managed to throw five shutout innings against a bad offense after spending the last twelve weeks or so recovering from a leg fracture. Pettitte will need every bit of his final two regular season starts to a) build his pitch count back up over 100, and b) shake the rust off, but it was definitely encouraging to see him come out and pitch well in his first start off the DL. With all due respect to David Phelps, who pitched well in the spot start last night as well as last time out against the Red Sox, getting Andy back in the rotation is huge. Tack on Ivan Nova replacing Freddy Garcia, and suddenly the starting staff looks a lot more formidable.

5. Thanks to Rafael Soriano‘s two-save effort yesterday, the Yankees are up to 50 total saves as a team this year. Soriano has 42, Mariano Rivera had five before he got hurt, and the trio of David Robertson, Boone Logan, and Derek Lowe have one each. It’s only the second time since 2005 that the Yankees have had more than 50 team saves in a single season, joining the 2009 squad (51). Obviously that means they’ll go on to win the World Series this year. Okay … in all seriousness, it’s a function of all the close games they’ve been playing. One hundred and fifteen of their 148 games have been decided by fewer than five runs, a whopping 77.7%. Last year it was 71%, the year before 68%, and the year before that 69%. Soriano has saved each of the team’s last six wins and ten of their last 12. He’s been absolutely huge for the Yankees this year, and yesterday’s performance was probably the highlight of his season to date.