Pirates designate former Yankees’ target Garrett Jones for assignment

Earlier today, the Pirates announced they have designated Garrett Jones for assignment. They needed to open a 40-man roster spot following a minor trade with the Padres. Jones was going to be non-tendered — Matt Swartz projects him to earn $5.3M through arbitration — so Pittsburgh just sped up the process and cut him loose now rather than wait until next Monday’s deadline.

Jones, 31, hit .233/.289/.419 (97 wRC+) with 15 homers in 440 plate appearances this year, including .241/.295/.435 (103 wRC+) against right-handers. The lefty swinger has hit .264/.324/.486 (122 wRC+) against righties over the last three seasons and can play both right field and first base. Jones can’t hit lefties at all (28 wRC+ since 2011) and his defense is passable at best. His value is tied up exclusively in his power and, lucky for him, his dead pull swing is pretty much tailor made for Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have tried to acquire Jones before, most notably asking for him in the A.J. Burnett trade talks, so expect them to at least kick the tires as soon as he clears waivers and declares free agency. He could work as a power bat off the bench who sees time in right field and at DH while serving as protection for the increasingly injury prone Mark Teixeira. Jones has been okay at best over the last four years and there’s a chance the 2013 season is an indication he’s about to fall off a cliff. I don’t think this is a no-brainer, but at the right price though, he makes sense for New York as a role player.

Update: Yanks, Pirates continue to talk about Burnett

Friday: Via Jon Heyman, the two sides continue to discuss a Burnett trade, and the Pirates are said to be willing to eat $10M of his contract. The Yankees are pushing for a 50-50 split, however. Heyman says there is hope for a deal. Joel Sherman adds that the ten clubs on A.J.’s no-trade list are all West Coast teams simply because his wife doesn’t like to fly. I get the sense that this is just a stare-down; each side is waiting for the other one to blink and take on more money. If the Yanks manage to unload half of A.J.’s deal and get something more than a non-prospect in return, it’ll be a minor miracle.

Thursday: Via Buster Olney, the Yankees want Garrett Jones from the Pirates in any deal involving A.J. Burnett. They know they’ll have to eat most of the $33M left on Burnett’s contract, but the problem is that Pittsburgh has no interest in dealing Jones and talks haven’t progressed at all. Jones, 30, is a late-blooming left-handed DH candidate who’s tagged righties for a .360 wOBA and a .208 ISO in his three seasons. He’s spent most of his defensive time at first and right field. Larry looked at him more in-depth a few weeks ago.

Identifying potential (ideally left-handed-hitting) DH trade targets

As we all know by now, the Yankees are telling people they are hoping to fill their vacancy at DH via trade (which would presumably include dealing either A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes) first, and should that fail, scour the remaining free-agent market as a fallback option.

The following is a short-list of potential designated hitter candidates (ideally of the left-handed hitting variety, to create a platoon with Andruw Jones) that could make some sense as trade targets for the Yankees. It should be noted that none of these players are likely on the trading block — three of four are penciled in as starters — but what better to stoke the Hot Stove fires with than irresponsible rumormongerng?

Garrett Jones, Pirates. Prior to embarking on research for this post I’d never even heard of Jones, but he hit righties fairly well last season, posting a .351 wOBA/122 wRC+ in 406 PAs, including an 11.3 BB%. Combined with Jones ideally putting together something reasonably comparable to the .400 wOBA/151 wRC+ he compiled against LHP from last season, and that’d not only make for one of the more productive DHs in the league, but also perhaps the first-ever all-Jones platoon in baseball history. Garrett also carries a career .360 wOBA against RHP along with a 125 wRC+ and 11.3 BB% in more than 1,000 PAs — the man knows how to hit right-handed pitching.

At 30, he’s also no spring chicken, and I can’t envision the cost in players being all that considerable, although as Joe noted to me, “He’s one of their only decent bats, so I’m not sure they’d let him go cheaply. Considering his age and must-platoon status, I’m not sure there’s a good match there.” A late bloomer, Jones is also under team control for three more years, so that would likely impede a hypothetical deal further. Still, Brian Cashman and Neal Huntington do seem to like each other as trading partners, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cash figure something creative out given the team’s current glut of pitching.

Nolan Reimold, Orioles. Despite the fact that the Yankees and Orioles have hooked up for just one player-for-player trade in the 19 years since Peter Angelos bought the Orioles franchise, Ken Rosenthal yesterday posited that the birds could be a logical trade partner for Burnett. While a deal involving anyone seems highly unlikely, earlier this offseason I wrote about Reimold potentially being a useful bench piece. Unfortunately he doesn’t meet the left-handed-hitting component of our criteria, but he actually can hit righties, tagging them with a .360 wOBA/124 wRC+ (10.1 BB%) in 201 PAs last season, and he’s evinced a slight reverse platoon split during his career, with a .345 mark against righties compared to .332 against lefties. He’s also not currently projected to start for Baltimore, perhaps making him a bit more expendable. Still, file this under not bloody likely.

Lucas Duda, Mets. This is even less likely than a deal with the O’s, as the Mets would presumably have to be blown away to trade a player that is arguably their second-best hitter and one who also happens to be cost-controlled. After all, the CitiField faithful are going to need something to get excited about given the bleak outlook of the next few years. Still, with the Yankees’ excess of arms, perhaps a deal involving Phil Hughes and one of the fourth-starter types at AAA (who would probably fare quite a bit better both in the NL and at the cavernous ballpark in Queens than in the Bronx) or some sort of package of minor leaguers would be compelling enough to evoke a rare crosstown trade for the left-handed Duda, who obliterated righties to the tune of a .380 wOBA/145 wRC+. Though Duda projects to be the Mets’ starting right fielder, the 26-year-old hasn’t shown much of an ability to hit portsiders to this point (in an admittedly small sample of 86 PAs, Duda has a .282 wOBA), so perhaps the cost wouldn’t be excessive given the need to platoon. (h/t to YankeeSource for inspiring this idea following his musing on Daniel Murphy).

David DeJesus, Cubs. The long-linked-to-the-Yankees local product DeJesus is a no-go at the present moment, having signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Cubbies at the end of November. However; should Chicago fall out of contention come July — and at the present moment, it’s not clear that they’re better than roughly a 3rd-place team on paper — DeJesus will likely be an attractive trade candidate. Though he had a tough year in Oakland last season, he still hit righties well (.347 wOBA/120 wRC+), and owns a career .356 wOBA/116 wRC+ against northpaws.

Again, with Jones and Duda projected to hit 5th for their respective teams, the Pirates and Mets would likely look for more than the Yankees would feel comfortable dishing, despite both franchises having basically already been eliminated from 2012 playoff contention. The unfortunate O’s are also a lock for last in the AL East yet again, though that still won’t be enough for Angelos to attempt to improve his team via dealing with the Yankees. If the Yankees do decide to go into the season addressing their DH needs in-house, DeJesus will likely be a name that will once again come up frequently should the Cubs falter, and would seem to be the most probable to be dealt out of this quartet.