Recently, I took a stab at finding some logical landing spots for David Freese, who somewhat surprisingly still sits on the open market despite having entered the offseason as the top free-agent third baseman. With Spring Training underway, let’s turn to another one of the three remaining players from MLBTR’s Top 50 free agents that still remains unsigned: Austin Jackson. (Justin Morneau is the other.)
Jackson never developed into the star-level talent that some expected after his first few seasons in the Majors, and the fact that has bat has taken a step back over the past two seasons certainly hasn’t bolstered his stock. Detractors can point to the fact that he’s a fairly strikeout-prone player without the pop to mask those punchouts, and his defensive ratings have declined along with his production at the plate from 2014-15.
However, Jackson’s offensive output was diminished, to some extent, by the pitcher-friendly expanses of Seattle’s Safeco Field, and even his deteriorated bat hasn’t been abysmal. Over the past two seasons, his .261/.310/.364 batting line, when adjusted for park, is about 10 to 11 percent below the league average (per wRC+ and OPS+, respectively). Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating have rated Jackson as an average defender in center field over that same stretch of two years. Even if that’s more or less what Jackson is at this stage of his career — a somewhat below average bat with an average glove in center field — that skill set carries some value to big league clubs, especially if he can be had on a one-year deal. He won’t cost his new club a draft pick, and having just turned 29 earlier this month, Jackson is younger than most free agents and certainly young enough that some degree of rebound shouldn’t be ruled out.
The Angels reportedly offered Jackson a one-year deal worth $5-6MM, which he’s said to have turned down. Whether finances or playing time were the impetus for passing on that deal — MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez noted that Jackson may still not have been in line for everyday at-bats with the Halos — Jackson remains on the market as the month of February winds down. An injury or suspension to a starting outfielder could create an opening for Jackson that doesn’t appear evident at the time being, but let’s run down a few possible landing spots for Jackson that look evident at this very moment…
- Indians — Cleveland is reportedly tapped out in terms of payroll, but the suspension of Abraham Almonte only weakened what was already a thin mix of outfielders. The money may not be there, but the Indians are perhaps the most obvious on-paper fit for Jackson. Their current outfield mix will consist of something like Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Collin Cowgill and Will Venable.
- White Sox — The Sox reportedly made a two-year offer to Dexter Fowler before he returned to Chicago’s other team, and they’ve been linked to a number of trade targets in the outfield. Jackson would provide a reasonable backup to Adam Eaton in center and could see regular at-bats in the outfield corners, as his glove would be an upgrade over that of either Melky Cabrera or Avisail Garcia.
- Orioles — Baltimore famously lost out on Fowler last week with the aforementioned return to the Cubs, and they’ve been connected to Jay Bruce in trade scenarios as well. Jackson would step into right field and serve as an everyday option there that could provide more certainty than Nolan Reimold, Ryan Flaherty and Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard.
- Royals — The Royals aren’t an oft-cited landing spot for an outfielder, but longtime reserve Jarrod Dyson currently projects to get the bulk of the playing time in right field. Dyson’s outstanding glove and baserunning certainly make him an intriguing starting candidate, and there’s a case to be made that he and Jackson are too similar to consider Jackson a true upgrade. For what it’s worth, the Royals did sign a Scott Boras client to a one-year deal rather than give Dyson an everyday look last year (Alex Rios).
- Angels — They may have been turned down, but if the Angels decide to change course on their Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon and look for an everyday option, Jackson does make some sense for the Halos.
- Blue Jays — Toronto attempted to land Bruce in a trade with the Reds and was prepared to send Michael Saunders to the Angels in that swap. Clearly, the team is open to some form of outfield upgrade, and sending Saunders to another club would lessen the financial hit that would be taken by adding Jackson to the payroll. Jackson would make for an even more right-heavy lineup for the Jays, however. Admittedly, this one might be kind of a stretch.
- Brewers, Reds— Either of these clubs consider Jackson an upgrade in the outfield, but both have potential future pieces that could benefit from the at-bats that would go to Jackson, making a signing seem unlikely. However, it’s not out of the question that one of the two teams could eventually consider him a value pickup that could be flipped in a midseason trade.
All of that said, I’ll open this one up to MLBTR readers everywhere with a poll (MLBTR app users can weigh in by clicking on this link)…