Indians Offseason Target: Garrett Jones


Is Garrett Jones a Fit for the Indians?

As the Indians continue to build their roster for the 2014 season, Wahoo’s on First has been breaking down their potential options into one of three categories – Ugly, Ruggedly Handsome, and Sexy

Well, from those three distinctions we can take things a step further. We can say that certain players and their skill sets are either necessities or luxuries. No, I’m not trying to reinvent how we have been evaluating players this offseason. I would risk mutiny in the Wahoo’s on First email chains the likes of which have not been seen since the Bounty. But rather, I am simply trying to find a way to justify talking about the latest target that the Indians could consider.

The Indians are already well off in the outfield following the recent signing of David Murphy. With Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana both able to man first base there is not much of a need there either. Even Jason Giambi has a fairly good handle on the left-handed designated hitter/late inning pinch hitter extraordinaire.

Despite all of that, I can’t help but feel like the Indians could find a potential steal with former Pittsburgh Pirate slugger Garrett Jones.

Apr 29, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones (46) hits a home run during the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agent List: Ruggedly Handsome

2013 Salary and Contract Status: In 2013, Garrett Jones earned $4.5-million, a raise from the $2.25-million he earned in 2012. However, Jones was eligible for salary arbitration this offseason and projected to earn somewhere in the area of $5.3-million in 2014. This was a price the cost conscious Pirates were unable commit to and as a result Jones was designated for assignment on Monday afternoon. Believing they would be able to find the same level of production for a significantly lower price, the Pirates felt that now was the time to cut ties with the 32-year-old outfielder/first baseman.

Past Three Seasons: Garrett Jones has been a bit of a yo-yo act over the past three seasons. After hitting 21 home runs in each of his first two seasons with the Pirates, Jones struggled in 2011 hitting .243/.321/.433 with only 16 home runs and 58 RBI. Hoping he would develop into a legitimate power hitting threat in the middle of their order, the Pirates refused to give up on Jones despite the slight regression.

They were rewarded for their patience in 2012 as Jones finally emerged into the power threat they thought he could be. Hitting behind Andrew McCutchen, Jones was able to feast on fastballs. The end result was a career year in which he hit .274/.317/.516 with 27 homers and 86 runs driven in. He also added a career high 68 runs scored and accounted for a 127 +wRC. At $2.25-million he was one of the best values of the season, achieving a bWAR of 1.7.

With expectations high for the Pirates in 2013, Jones came crashing back down to Earth. He began the year as the Pirates every day right fielder and by season’s end was virtually out of the conversation at either first base or right field. With the acquisitions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau for the stretch run, there was simply nowhere to play Jones. He finished the 2013 campaign with a slash line of .233/.289/.419 and belted only 15 home runs. His career worst strikeout percentage of 23% combined with a career worst BAbip of .271 probably played a significant role in the decline.

Aug 30, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones (46) hits a solo home run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the fourth inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Why Cleveland?: Why not Cleveland? The Indians are playing with a full deck at first base and the outfield, but who couldn’t use another power bat? As things stand right now it would be hard to imagine Garrett Jones getting significant playing time in either the outfield or first base, especially when you take into account his defensive shortcomings. He has never been a solid defensive player accounting for -22 defensive runs saved in his career at first and 0 defensive runs saved as an outfielder.

However, where Jones might make the most sense is in the role currently occupied by Jason Giambi.

While Giambi played an important part in the success of the 2013 Indians, there is no guarantee that he would be able to duplicate those contributions in 2014 at the age of 43. In fact, other than a few memorable walk-off home runs against the White Sox, Giambi did little to add any significant value to the team on the field. And while you can argue the merits of his off the field contributions, it is the impact on the field that should factor in first and foremost.

Garett Jones will turn 33 years old midway through the 2014 season and is a whole ten years younger than Giambi. With that youth (relatively speaking) comes a certain degree of flexibility. Jones can play multiple positions if need be. He can also play multiple days in a row without requiring multiple days off to recover. Not to mention, the Indians got lucky with Giambi in 2013 in that he never broke down or experienced any nagging injuries. Even still he hit .183/.282/.371 with everything going right. Realistically, can the Indians rely on that to happen again in 2014?

The answer to that question is no and that is where Garrett Jones comes into play.

Expected Contract: Unfortunately, the one factor that needs to be taken into account is the contract. Before he was designated for assignment by the Pirates, MLB Trade Rumors had projected Jones for a $5.3-million salary for the 2014 season through arbitration. That’s a raise of almost a million dollars from what he earned in 2013.

At the age of 32 on Opening Day 2014, Garrett Jones may still be able to command a multi-year deal with a team desperate for a power bat. As Wahoo’s on First’s Steve Kinsella likes to say, “power plays.” So while a one year deal worth somewhere between $4-million to $5-million makes sense, don’t be surprised if someone comes in and potentially offers Jones multiple years that the Indians may not be willing to commit to or an extra $1-million to $2-million that they may not want to spend.

For a player who has hovered around 1 WAR every year for his career (4.2 fWAR in 5 seasons), a team could justify paying Garrett Jones between $6-million and $7-million in 2014. After all, if you believe Lewie Pollis, a win is worth about $7-million. Just don’t expect the Indians to be one of those teams. If the Indians are going to sign Garrett Jones to fill the role currently occupied by Jason Giambi it will probably only happen if the rest of the market is down on Jones and his ability. This is especially true since Giambi is playing on a non-guaranteed minor league contract.

Simply put, Garrett Jones would be a luxury and is by no means a necessity for the Indians in 2014.