The Indians have been somewhat loosely connected to outfielder Austin Jackson in the past week, but Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that Cleveland is “pretty much tapped out as far as payroll goes,” and specifically calls out Jackson as an unlikely target for the team.
The Indians have spent a combined $12.25MM on Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis this winter, and they recently agreed to terms with infielder Juan Uribe to add a further option at the hot corner. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported tonight that Uribe’s guarantee is $4MM, bringing Cleveland’s free-agent expenditures to a fairly modest $16.25MM. The entirety of that $16.25MM will be added to the club’s 2016 payroll, however, which currently sits at about $93.435MM by my rough estimate (h/t: Cot’s Contracts) after factoring in money owed to Chris Johnson and the $15MM Cleveland included in the trade to acquire Johnson while shedding Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. That figure eclipses last season’s Opening Day mark of just under $88MM.
Even if the match between Cleveland and Jackson is unlikely or impossible, it’s easy to see how the connection would’ve made sense. Michael Brantley is among the game’s best outfielders, but he’s recovering from shoulder surgery and isn’t expected to be ready come Opening Day. Beyond Brantley, the veteran Davis can see time all over the outfield, but the rest of the mix features Abraham Almonte, Collin Cowgill and Lonnie Chisenhall — none of whom comes with much of a track record in the Majors.
As far as Jackson goes, the apparent removal of Cleveland as a suitor for his services further clouds an uncertain situation for the former Rookie of the Year runner up. While Jackson’s production at the plate has taken somewhat of a dip in the past two seasons (about 10 percent below average, per park-adjusted metrics OPS+ and wRC+), he’s rated as an average center fielder in that time per UZR and DRS. In addition to the Indians, Jackson been thinly connected to the White Sox, Rangers, Cubs, Brewers and Angels over the past five weeks. Texas, though, is said to be in a similar boat to the Indians in terms of payroll (or, at least, reportedly does not want to spend additional funds). The Brewers, meanwhile, haven’t given any indication that they’re pursuing outfield help, and the Angels are perilously close to the luxury tax barrier that they’re reportedly loath to exceed.