Austin Jackson Rumors

Free Agent Stock Watch: Center Fielders

With more than a fifth of the season in the books, we’ve had an early look (a peek, really) into where things may be headed on next winter’s free agent market. One of the most interesting positions to watch, in my estimation, is center field, where there are several players who had a lot to prove coming into the season.

There figure to be several clubs looking at adding new, mid-term or long-term options. The Indians, Mariners, Rangers, Athletics, Rangers, Cubs, and Padres all look like fairly good bets to at least dabble in the market at center. Depending upon how things shake out, it is not impossible to imagine that clubs like the Blue Jays, Tigers, Astros, Cardinals, and Giants could be as well.

Looking at MLBTR’s 2016 free agent list, which documents the players currently on track to qualify for the open market, a small group stands out as possible starting-caliber options. The trio is particularly interesting because they were so tightly bunched coming into the season — all looking to be solidly average to above-average performers, depending on one’s particular viewpoint. (Note: I’m not considering Colby Rasmus here because he has spent most of his time in the corner outfield this year. But he could also figure into the mix.)

Let’s see where things stand:

Value up: Denard Span, Nationals.

After missing the spring and early part of the season following core muscle surgery, Span needed more than ever to show that he could repeat last year’s excellent campaign. Things are certainly pointing up in the early going, as he owns a .316/.375/.532 slash over 88 turns at bat.

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While it’s obviously unlikely that he’ll maintain that kind of power output — his current .215 ISO is more than double than his career 108 mark — Span is driving the ball consistently, as he did in 2014, while posting an impeccable strikeout-to-walk ratio. His .310 BABIP actually trails his career levels slightly, so it seems that quality contact is driving the early productivity.

Overall regression is almost certainly in store, but the early returns serve to confirm that Span is a quality top-of-the-order bat and, perhaps more importantly, that he is healthy. Span will need to keep things up in both regards after entering the year with injury questions and as the elder member (31 years of age) of the group considered in this post. Of course, he could stand to see a boost in his somewhat lagging early defensive ratings (which seem to belie the perceptions of some around the game) and his stolen base tallies, but the arrow is pointing up overall and he’s done the most to increase his stock.

Value neutral: Dexter Fowler, Cubs.

While his walks are down somewhat early, Fowlers continues to deliver solid results at the plate with a fairly typical .262/.345/.397 batting line. He has shown more at times, but that lands firmly within expectations. More promisingly, the 29-year-old has swiped eight bags already and is on pace for career highs in that arena, though he has been caught three times as well.

The major talent assessment question with Fowler is his defense in center. He has spent much of his time in tough-to-patrol outfields — Coors Field and Minute Maid Park — and rated terribly at the position last year (tallying negative 20 Defensive Runs Saved and negative 21.8 UZR on the year). That has turned around somewhat in a still-small sample this year in Chicago, with Fowler posting positive UZR marks (10.7 UZR/15) while receiving a less-glowing -3 DRS rating.

All said, the early speed and defense returns rate as good signs for Fowler, and the results at the plate have done nothing to detract from his appeal. You could argue, then, that his value is slightly on the rise. If nothing else, Fowler seems a reasonable target at center, after entering the year with the possibility that he’d be viewed more as a corner option. Some clubs may still end up seeing him that way, of course, especially as it is really too soon to draw much from defensive numbers. All said, Fowler’s value is largely holding steady at the present time.

Value down: Austin Jackson, Mariners.

Jackson looked like a nice get for the Mariners at last year’s trade deadline, but has been a significant disappointment thus far in Seattle. He just turned 28 a few months back, but 2015 has continued a troubling downturn in his overall productivity.

Over 339 plate appearances with the M’s, Jackson has put up a meager .233/.275/.280 line with two home runs. He has added a healthy 16 stolen bases over that stretch, but that’s hardly enough to offset concerns. To be sure, Jackson’s .284 BABIP is due for some positive regression — his career mark sits at .351 and he’s never ended a professional season below last year’s .325 — and his strikeout/walk numbers are in line with career norms. But he is making more weak contact than ever before while hitting more groundballs (50%) this year than is his custom.

Jackson still rates as a solid average center fielder and seems to have the legs to maintain that going forward. His current DL stint with a sprained ankle is probably not cause for any long-term concern, and may even afford him a chance to work on his difficulties if he takes a short rehab stint. But the sub-.100 ISO he has carried over this season and last has significantly reduced his appeal. There’s plenty of time for a turnaround, but Jackson is trending down at present.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Mariners Avoid Arb With Jackson, Morrison, Ackley, Furbush

4:10pm: Jackson will earn $7.7MM, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets.

2:02pm: The Mariners announced today that they’ve avoided arbitration with Austin Jackson, Logan Morrison, Dustin Ackley and Charlie Furbush. The team also confirmed its previously reported agreement with Justin Ruggiano, who also avoided arbitration.

Terms of Jackson’s signing are not yet known, though he projected to earn $8MM in arbitration, according to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. Meanwhile, Mike Perchick of WAPT has the salary figures for each of the others (All Twitter links). Morrison will earn $2.725MM with the ability to earn an extra $25K for reaching 500 and 600 plate appearances. Ackley settled at $2.6MM and will receive an additional $50K upon reaching 500 plate appearances. Furbush is penciled in for a $1.3MM salary that contains no incentives or bonuses.

Morrison, Ackley and Furbush were projected to receive respective salaries of $2.6MM, $2.8MM and $1MM. Meanwhile, the Mariners noted that Tom Wilhelmsen is still arb-eligible, suggesting that the two sides have exchanged or will exchange figures. A deal could still be agreed upon before a hearing, however.


Tigers Avoid Arbitration With Porcello, Jackson

The Tigers and Rick Porcello have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $8.5MM deal, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (on Twitter). They've also agreed to a $6MM deal for 2014 with Austin Jackson, Sherman tweets.

Porcello, 25, was arb-eligible for the third time this offseason as a Super Two player. The Excel Sports client is controllable through the 2015 campaign and was projected to earn $7.7MM, per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. Porcello relies heavily on his high ground-ball rate and could see an uptick in performance with a new-look — and presumably, defensively superior — infield behind him in 2014.

Jackson, 26, is also controllable through the 2015 campaign, though he is not a Super Two player. A Scott Boras client, Jackson had been projected by Swartz to earn $5.3MM.



AL Central Notes: Jackson, Pelfrey, Garza, Butler

The Tigers have discussed trading Austin Jackson to the Yankees in exchange for Brett Gardner, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports.  Both players have been above-average fielders in center over their careers and have comparable career batting lines, though Gardner is a better base-stealer and Jackson has more doubles pop.  Jackson turns 27 in February, is projected to earn $5.3MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility and he'll hit free agency after the 2015 season; the 30-year-old Gardner is projected to earn $4MM and he'll be a free agent next winter.  I'm not sure this deal makes sense for the Tigers unless they don't think they can sign Jackson (a Scott Boras client) to an extension, or if they aren't interested in extending Jackson.  From the Yankees' side, they like Gardner enough that they probably wouldn't move him for a very similar player, albeit a younger one.

Here are some more items from all five AL Central franchises…

  • The Twins have increased the value of their two-year offer to Mike Pelfrey from $10MM to $12MM, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.  The Rangers and Giants have also shown interest in Pelfrey, Neal reports.
  • Also from Neal, the stumbling block between Matt Garza and the Twins seems to be Garza's demands for a four- or five-year contract, as Minnesota isn't willing to make that long a commitment due to injury concerns.  That said, Neal isn't counting the Twins out of the Garza race yet as he hears the team is still in the hunt (Twitter links).  You can read more about the Twins' hunt for pitching here.
  • The Royals could continue to shop Billy Butler since "Before too long, the DH spot has to be a rotating position for us. It really does," a club official tells Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.  For one, the Royals may use Salvador Perez at DH to keep his bat in the lineup when he isn't catching, plus added DH days would help keep Perez healthy.  Even if Butler isn't dealt this offseason, Dutton doesn't believe the Royals will sign him to an extension once his current deal is up.  It was reported earlier today that Butler's name had come up in trade talks with the Blue Jays.
  • The Royals, Indians and Rangers are among the teams interested in Shaun Marcum, ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets.  Marcum underwent surgery to correct his thoracic outlet syndrome in July and his agent updated MLBTR's Tim Dierkes on the recovery process last month.
  • The White Sox are looking to cut their payroll from just under $119MM in 2013 to between $89MM-$99MM range for 2014, ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla writes, with the $99MM figure being the likelier of the two.  Despite the cuts on the Major League side, GM Rick Hahn said the club will reinvest the saved money into extra spending on the draft and international signings.
  • In other AL Central news from earlier today, the Tigers reached an agreement with Joba Chamberlain and the Indians were battling with the Padres over Joaquin Benoit.

Poll: Who Will Sign An Extension This May?

Let's start the weekend up with a poll. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted recently, two young stars (Adam Jones and Miguel Montero) signed significant extensions during May of 2012. While there have not been significant rumblings about any similar deals recently, the Jones and Montero deals both sprung up with relatively little advance buzz: Jones said he was not aware of any talks with the Orioles just a month before his six-year, $85.5MM deal was inked. And the build up to Montero's five-year, $60MM extension consisted largely of the Diamondbacks' acknowledgement that the team was open to in-season negotiations.

Jones had one year of arbitration eligibility remaining when he signed, while Montero would have become a free agent at the end of the year. Both were relatively young (26 and 28, respectively) and fairly well established as above-average players at premium defensive positions. And each had been with their teams for all or virtually all of their big league careers.

With those deals in mind, let's take a look at some generally comparable position players who could be positioned for similar deals. We will not include Robinson Cano, as he is at a different level of performance and contract extension, along with being somewhat older. Anyhow, we already asked MLBTR readers what they think about the likelihood of a Cano extension. Likewise, we'll leave out Chase Headley, given his recent comments. (Also, MLBTR readers just weighed in on a possible Headley extension, with the majority believing a trade was more likely than an extension.) 

The Nationals' Ian Desmond, 27, has continued to build off of his emergence last year. He sports a .296/.311/.530 line, although he has also registered seven early errors. The shortstop has spent his entire career in the former-Expos organization, and is poised to hit the open market in 2016. We know the Nats are open to negotiating an extension with Desmond, and the Elvis Andrus signing provides a relevant (albeit imperfect) point of reference

Orioles' catcher Matt Wieters is another obvious candidate. He will turn 27 later this month, and is looking at free agency in 2016. Ongoing negotiations between Wieters and the O's are seemingly at a simmer, but could pick up at any time. While Wieters is off to a bit of a slow start, slashing just .224/.297/.388 to date, he also probably had less to prove this season than Desmond.

Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, 29, is similarly situated to Montero. He has played his entire career in Boston, but is set to become a free agent after the season. While the center fielder has not returned to his MVP-level 2011 season, when he exploded for 32 home runs, he has bounced back from his injury-shortened 2012. Thus far, his batting line (.286/.338/.405) and league-leading steal totals (11) are right in line with his strong 2008-2009 seasons. While both player and team appear interested in discussing an extension, Ellsbury's representation by Scott Boras — and the possibility that he could significantly raise his value with an injury-free 2013 — could make a deal unlikely.

Jason Heyward of the Braves is two years from free agency at just 23 years old, but as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes notes, the cost-conscious Braves could look to extend him. Heyward is currently on the DL after undergoing an appendectomy, and has had a poor start to the year. Nevertheless, he has established himself as few big leaguers have at his age. 

Austin Jackson, the Tigers' center fielder, is a young 26 and still two years from free agency. He is also a client of Scott Boras. But his strong early track record could make him a target for Detroit to try and lock up early. With so many big-money free agent deals on the books, it could make sense for the Tigers to try and save on Jackson by guaranteeing him money in advance. Jackson is off to another good start, putting up a .293/.356/.407 line to go with five steals.


Players Avoiding Arbitration: Friday

Dozens of players will agree to terms with their respective teams today and avoid arbitration. We'll have detailed posts on the top earners around MLB, and we'll track more modest agreements — those worth less than $4MM — right here. MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker will have all of the details.

Teams had until 12pm CDT today to exchange filing numbers with their arbitration eligible players. Generally speaking the deadline creates lots of discussion and leads to early deals. Plus, for ‘file and trial’ teams this marks the final chance for negotiations in advance of a hearing. Here are the latest agreements from around MLB…

  • The Padres announced that they have avoided arbitration with Edinson Volquez.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
  • The Red Sox announced that they avoided arbitration with Andrew Bailey ($4.1MM), Daniel Bard ($1.8625MM), Andrew Miller ($1.475MM), and Franklin Morales ($1.4875MM).  Terms courtesy of WEEI.com's Rob Bradford.
  • The Mets and Bobby Parnell avoided arb with a $1.7MM deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter).
  • The Red Sox avoided arbitration with Alfredo Aceves, agreeing to a deal worth $2.65MM plus incentives, according to O'Connell Sports Management, Aceves' agency (on Twitter via Jon Heyman).
  • The Cubs avoided arbitration with James Russell and Jeff Samardzija, Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com reports (on Twitter). Samardzija obtains $2.64MM while Russell gets $1.075MM, Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com reports (on Twitter).
  • The Diamondbacks announced that they avoided arbitration with Chris Johnson ($2.2875MM). The team also avoided arbitration with Brad Ziegler ($3.15MM), agreeing to a one-year deal, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reports (on Twitter).  Terms courtesy of Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic (on Twitter).
  • The Nationals announced that they agreed to terms with Tyler Clippard, avoiding arbitration (via Amanda Comak on Twitter). The Nationals avoided arbitration with Ian Desmond, agreeing to a one-year, $3.8MM deal, Amanda Comak of the Washington Times reports (on Twitter). The Nationals also avoided arb with Roger Bernadina according to the outfielder's agent, James Wagner of the Washington Post reports (on Twitter). The Nationals and Ross Detwiler agreed to a one-year, $2.3375MM contract, according to CAA (via Twitter).
  • Brennan Boesch and Phil Coke avoided arbitration, agreeing to one-year deals with the Tigers, Jason Beck of MLB.com reports (on Twitter). Boesch will earn $2.3MM while Coke will earn $1.85MM. The Tigers also avoided arbitration with Alex Avila, agreeing to a one-year, $2.95MM deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (all Twitter links). Austin Jackson agreed to a deal worth $3.5MM for 2013, Heyman reports. Doug Fister obtained a one-year, $4MM deal from Detroit, Heyman reports.
  • The Dodgers and A.J. Ellis avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year, $2MM deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). Ronald Belisario agreed to a one-year, $1.45MM deal, MLB.com's Ken Gurnick reports (on Twitter).
  • The Mariners announced that they avoided arbitration with Kendrys Morales and Brendan Ryan on one-year agreements for 2013. Morales will obtain $5.25MM plus performance bonuses, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). Ryan obtained $3.25MM, Heyman reports (on Twitter).
  • The Rockies avoided arb with Tyler Colvin, agreeing to a one-year deal, the team announced (on Twitter). Colvin will earn $2.275MM, Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes (on Twitter).
  • The Braves avoided arbitration with Cristhian Martinez, agreeing to a one-year deal, MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports (on Twitter). The Braves avoided arb with Kris Medlen, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports (on Twitter). Medlen will earn $2.6MM in 2013. They also avoided arb with Jason Heyward, agreeing to a one-year, $3.65MM deal, Bowman reports (onTwitter). The Braves agreed with another young player, avoiding arb with Jonny Venters, O'Brien reports (on Twitter). It's a $1.625MM deal. Earlier today the Braves agreed to a one-year deal with Eric O'Flaherty, avoiding arbitration, Bowman reported (on Twitter). He'll earn $4.32MM plus awards bonuses, Bowman adds.
  • The Athletics announced they avoided arb with Jerry Blevins and Brandon Moss, agreeing to one-year deals for 2013.
  • The Cardinals avoided arb with Mitchell Boggs and Edward Mujica, B.J. Rains of FOX Sports MidWest reports (on Twitter).
  • The Indians announced that they avoided arb with Matt Albers and Justin Masterson. Albers will earn $1.75MM in 2013, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reports (on Twitter). Masterson will earn $5.6875MM according to Bastian (on Twitter). The Indians and Joe Smith avoided arbitration with a one-year, $3.15MM deal, Bastian reported earlier today (on Twitter). The Indians also avoided arbitration with Lou Marson, Bastian reports (Twitter links). The catcher will earn $1MM on a one-year deal in 2013.
  • The Astros avoided arb with Wesley Wright, agreeing to a one-year deal, MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reports (on Twitter).  Wright will earn $1.025MM, according to Heyman (on Twitter). Earlier today the Astros and Bud Norris avoided arb with a one-year, $3MM deal, McTaggart reports (on Twitter). The Astros and Jed Lowrie avoided arbitration with a one-year, $2.4MM deal with awards bonuses, according to his representatives at CAA Baseball (on Twitter).
  • The White Sox announced that they avoided arbitration with Alejandro De Aza, agreeing to a $2.075MM deal for 2013. The White Sox also avoided arb with Gordon Beckham, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $2.925MM for 2013, MLBTR has learned.
  • The Orioles announced that they avoided arb with Chris Davis and Brian Matusz (Twitter link). Matusz gets a base salary of $1.6MM while Davis gets $3.3MM, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports (Twitter links). The Orioles also avoided arbitration with Troy Patton. The sides agreed to a one-year, $815K deal, his agency, CAA Sports, announced on Twitter
  • The Brewers avoided arb with right-hander Marco Estrada and reliever Burke Badenhop, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Twitter links). Estrada will earn $1.955MM while Badenhop will earn $1.55MM, Haudricourt reports.
  • The Rays avoided arbitration with Matthew Joyce and Ryan Roberts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports (on Twitter). Joyce will earn $2.45MM and Roberts will earn $2.95MM plus incentives, the Rays announced. The Rays also avoided arbitration with Sam Fuld, agreeing to a one-year, $725K deal, Topkin reported (on Twitter). Earlier today the Rays avoided arbitration with Jeff Niemann. The sides agreed to a one-year, $3MM deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter).
  • The Royals announced that they avoided arbitration with Luke Hochevar, agreeing to a one-year deal for 2013. Hochevar will earn $4.56MM plus performance bonuses, Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star reports (on Twitter).
  • The Yankees avoided arb with Boone Logan, agreeing to a one-year, $3.15MM deal (via CAA Sports on Twitter).
  • The Padres avoided arb with John Baker, agreeing to a $930K deal (via CAA Sports on Twitter).
  • The Twins and Brian Duensing avoided arb with a $1.3MM deal for 2013 (via CAA Sports on Twitter).
  • The Marlins avoided arbitration with Ryan Webb, agreeing to a $975K deal, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports (on Twitter).
  • The Blue Jays announced that they avoided arbitration with Emilio Bonifacio by agreeing to a one-year, $2.6MM deal. The Blue Jays also announced that they avoided arbitration with J.A. Happ, agreeing to a one-year, $3.7MM deal for 2013.
  • The Angels and Tommy Hanson avoided arbitration with a one-year, $3.725MM deal, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. 
  • The Giants avoided arb with Gregor Blanco, agreeing to a one-year, $1.35MM deal, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter).
  • The Phillies announced that they avoided arbitration with Antonio Bastardo with a $1.4MM contract for 2013.
  • Gaby Sanchez and the Pirates have reached agreement on a one-year, $1.75MM deal plus bonuses to avoid arbitration, according to the Beverly Hills Sports Council (on Twitter).

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Austin Jackson To Be Represented By Scott Boras

Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson signed on to be represented by agent Scott Boras, according to Jason Beck of MLB.com (via Twitter).  Jackson was previously represented by Hendricks Sports.

Jackson, 25, is set to be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and can hit the open market after the 2015 season.  The centerfielder joined the club in the winter of 2009 in a three-way deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees.  Jackson has had a strong season in his third year with Detroit, hitting .300/.377/.479 with 16 homers in 617 plate appearances.  For other Boras clients and clients of other agents, check out MLBTR's Agency Database.


Tigers Notes: Scherzer, Jackson, Inge

The Orioles no-hit the Tigers on this date in 1967, but Detroit walked ten times and still managed a 2-1 win. Here are some Tigers-related notes to begin the week before tonight's game against the Royals…

  • Tigers manager Jim Leyland hinted that the Tigers could option Max Scherzer to the minor leagues for a time if his struggles continue. "There are always choices," the skipper said, according to Lynn Henning of the Detroit News. Scherzer has a 7.77 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 five starts into the season.
  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press says the three-way trade that sent Curtis Granderson  to New York for Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Daniel Schlereth “remains in the best long-range interests of the Tigers” because they cashed in their best trade chip for players with star potential.
  • Leyland says the Tigers need to get Scherzer going, according to Sharp. "There's no question about that,” Leyland said. “I'm not mad at him. I love the guy. But it's just the facts. We need to get him going.”
  • Longtime Tiger Brandon Inge is expected to join the Athletics in Boston today, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Inge agreed to terms with the A's yesterday.

Tigers Notes: Pitching, Contract Renewals

Prince Fielder is already loving things with the Tigers, which bodes well for the club's status as World Series contenders.  Here's the latest out of the Motor City…

  • The Tigers have talked to some baseball people who are "convinced" Detroit will trade for another starting pitcher by Opening Day, reports Danny Knobler of CBS Sports (Twitter link).  We heard last week that the Tigers were keeping an eye out for potential fifth starter candidates, though the club was also comfortable in using one of their current pitchers at the end of the rotation.
  • Tigers manager Jim Leyland reiterated his support of his in-house pitching possibilities, reports MLB.com's Jason Beck.  "If we go outside [the organization], it's going to have to be [for] somebody better than what we have here," Leyland said.  "We truly believe that we've got the guy," Leyland said. "Who it is, I don't know."  Jacob Turner, Duane Below, Adam Wilk and Andy Oliver are among Detroit's internal candidates.
  • From that same item, the Tigers announced they have renewed the contracts of Alex Avila, Doug Fister and Austin Jackson for the 2012 season.  All three players will be eligible for arbitration for the first time next winter, and you'd think at least Avila and Fister will be extension candidates if they repeat their 2011 performances.  Detroit now has its entire 40-man roster under contract for 2012.

Odds & Ends: Barajas, Piniella, Nats, Ramirez, Jackson

From the South Bay to the Valley, from the West Side to the East Side, everybody is very happy because Vin Scully will return in 2011.  Let's check out some links from around the web..