Believe it or not, a solid centerfielder like Austin Jackson, who doesn’t cost a draft pick, is still available. The best name remaining in free agency will find someone to play with in 2016, with the remaining candidates to sign him being the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Toronto Blue Jays.
Spring training is underway, but teams still haven’t rounded out the rosters and lineups they want. The Baltimore Orioles seemed to be making a double signing with Yovani Gallardo (who did end up signing for them) and Dexter Fowler, but the latter went back to the Chicago Cubs, while the Orioles were blasted by his agent for misleading everyone by being a bit premature with their celebrations, also leading us to call them the kings of late free agency.
Jackson is an average (or maybe a bit less) hitter, playing on three different teams (Tigers, Mariners, Cubs) in the last two seasons, getting traded twice. He’s not the hitter some thought he’d turn out to be after a fantastic rookie season in 2010, but he batted .261 with a .674 OPS over the last two seasons, that included 13 home runs. Add that to his OK’ish defense, and you get a player that shouldn’t be landing record breaking contracts, but a useful player to serve as an outfield backup or a shiny part of a strong centerfield platoon.
And that seems to be where Jackson is headed. A one year deal worth $6 million (or something around that number) with a team that doesn’t need some headlining star at centerfield, but simply needs more depth and an upgrade, which at 29, Jackson can still provide. It might mean he takes a paycut (made $7.7 million last season) but from the way free agency has been going for him, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
One team that could really use him but won’t sign him are the Cleveland Indians. They were already cash strapped before signing Juan Uribe. Now? They need a centerfielder badly, but it’s hard to believe they’ll find an extra $6 million just waiting to be spent considering it took them so long to sign Uribe for $4 million plus $1.5 million in performance bonuses. White Sox, Angels, Orioles and Blue Jays. That seems to be the refined, final shortlist.
The White Sox have missed out on basically everyone they’ve gone after this offseason in free agency, including Fowler. They need someone to backup Adam Eaton, not to mention provide some defense and hitting on both outfield corner positions. It might not be ideal for Jackson, but the White Sox, through trades or free agency, have been hungry for a new outfielder and Jackson seems like a suitable answer.
The Orioles were about to sign Fowler and missed out. They have been connected to the Jay Bruce trade as well, but like the Blue Jays, are left with something of a hole at centerfield, although Jackson, in Baltimore, might end up playing a lot more right field than anything else considering how slim the pickings are there for the Orioles. The Blue Jays might need to get rid of Michael Saunders first before signing Jackson, making it a bit more difficult to accomplish.
And the Angels? Right not they’re going with a Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry platoon. Jackson is probably more of an everyday option than the both of them, and the ability to use him in other slots as well should be tempting for the Angels, who have also been missing out on free agent targets all offseason long.