Yankees considering Andruw Jones

Via Jon Heyman, free agent Andruw Jones is on the Yankees’ “list of righty hitting [outfielders] to consider.” I assume this is the same list Manny Ramirez was on. I took a look at Jones about a week ago and figured that he’s a viable option for that Marcus Thames role, and I see no reason to change my opinion now. Andruw has declined the Yanks once before though, so there’s a little bit of history here.

Mailbag: Andruw Jones

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Seb asks: As I’m from Holland and a huge Yankee fan, I would love to see a fellow Dutchman in pinstripes. Do you think there’s any chance the Yanks will pursue Andruw Jones this offseason? He fits their needs as a fourth outfielder/power bat off the bench. He’s put up some solid power numbers the past two seasons in Texas and Chicago with his splits against lefties looking much better than against righties. He is still a solid defender, definitely better than Thames, and although he might not be the player he used to be.. to me he looks like a pretty good fit for the Yanks. Do you see a spot for him on the 2011 Yankees?

It’s been a long, long time since Jones broke onto the scene as a 19-year-old in 1996, terrorizing the Yankees with a two-homer game in the World Series. Tough to believe that his borderline Hall of Fame career is rapidly coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of helping a big league team in a limited role. The Yankees need a right-handed hitting outfielder, and the still just 33-year-old Jones might be their guy.

Since leaving the Braves as a free agent three seasons ago, he’s bounced from the Dodgers to the Rangers to the White Sox, hitting just .204/.312/.411 (.328 wOBA) with 39 homers along the way. It’s an ugly slash line, no doubt about it, but it masks a rather pronounced platoon split. During that time Jones has hit just .196/.288/.402 (.304 wOBA) against righties but .219/.352/.428 (.344 wOBA) against lefties. If we look at just the last two seasons to remove that horrific 2008 campaign with the Dodgers, we get .215/.310/.477 (.340 wOBA) vs. righties and .234/.369/.463 (.363 wOBA) vs. lefties. Dude can’t hit for average to save his life, but he’ll certainly take his walks and he still hits for a ton of power.

One concern I have is how Jones has tailed off in each of the last two years, something Joe wrote about it at FanGraphs this summer. Andruw dropped off from a .424 wOBA in his first ~110 plate appearances in 2009 to just a .320 wOBA in his final ~220 plate appearances of the season, then the same thing happened in 2010. He had a .427 wOBA in his first ~110 plate appearances, and just .340 in ~220 plate appearances after that. The drop off wasn’t as severe this past season, but it still happened and we can’t ignore it. Jones has been a hot starter in each of the last two years and then he’s been merely average, if not worse after mid-May.

Defensively, Jone is no longer the historically great defender in center that he used to be. In fact, he’s spent more time playing the corners than center over the last three years, and even more time at designated hitter. He’s even dabbled at first base on occasion. His UZR‘s during that time are just okay at best, and we should expect him to get worse going forward, not better. If he’s playing once or twice a week, below average glovework in a corner outfield spot won’t be the end of the world.

Bench players are bench players because they have flaws in their game and aren’t good enough to be starters. Jones’ problem(s) is that he’s struggled against right-handers and hasn’t performed consistently over a full 162 game schedule over the last two years, not to mention that he strikes out a ton (once ever four at-bats in recent years). That last part is to be expected with power hitters, however. The good news is that he should come cheap, really cheap actually. Last year the White Sox paid Jones just $500,000 with another million bucks in incentives, the second straight year he’s settled for a six-figure base salary. The market has exploded this winter, but it still shouldn’t take more than $1.5-2M to sign Jones. And if it does, let someone else pay him.

I still prefer Scott Hairston as the righty outfield bat off the bench, but Andruw isn’t a bad option, probably the second best on the free agent market. The Yankees offered Jones an invitation to Spring Training as a non-roster player two years ago, but he turned them down for a guaranteed deal with the Rangers. If nothing else, that tells us he’s on their radar, and I’m willing to bet they’re at least considering him again this offseason.

Andruw Jones rejects Yanks overtures

Apparently, Andruw Jones thinks some team is going to give him a major league contract. He’s been courted by a number of teams, including the Braves, the Phillies, the Rangers, and yes, the Yankees. According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees offered the struggling center fielder a non-roster invite to Spring Training, but were rejected. Jones will probably wait out the market until he can get a Major League deal. Speculation points to Texas right now. Jones would obviously be worth a look if there’s no guarantee involved, but I don’t think it’s worth it to DFA another player for him.

Jones reworks deal, still not the solution in center

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.