4:31pm: The deal has been announced by Cleveland.
2:31pm: Jackson and the Indians are in agreement on a minor league deal that comes with a $1.5MM base salary, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (Twitter link). He can earn up to $4MM worth of incentives in addition to that base, and Heyman also tweets that Jackson has an opt-out clause in his deal that comes at the end of Spring Training.
2:17pm: The Indians and free-agent outfielder Austin Jackson are closing in on an agreement, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney (on Twitter). Cleveland has been seeking a right-handed complement for Tyler Naquin in center field, and Jackson could fill that role at what’s likely to be an affordable rate. Jackson, who turns 30 next month, is represented by Octagon.
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Jackson spent the 2016 season with the White Sox after signing a one-year, $5MM deal in free agency last February, but he struggled at the plate for two months before ultimately suffering a knee injury that ended his season. In 203 plate appearances with the South Siders, Jackson hit .254/.318/.343 with 12 doubles, two triples and no home runs.
Back in 2010, Jackson finished runner-up to Neftali Feliz in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, and through the first four seasons of his career the former top prospect looked to be a star on the rise. Jackson batted .278/.344/.416 while playing exceptional center field defense and providing strong value on the basepaths as well. However, a 2014 trade to the Mariners marked the beginning of a rapid offensive decline for Jackson, who has produced a rather dismal .255/.302/.345 batting line in 966 plate appearances since first leaving Detroit.
From a defensive standpoint, Jackson’s skills have become more questionable as well. Both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved felt his work in center was roughly average, in the aggregate, from 2014-15. But both metrics soured on his glove in 2016, agreeing that he cost the White Sox about five runs in just 465 innings as a center fielder. With a notable knee surgery now in his recent history as well, it’s certainly fair to wonder if Jackson’s days as even an average center fielder are behind him, although the Indians aren’t taking on much financial risk in order to find out.
And, in a platoon setting, Jackson could still prove productive at the plate. Despite the lackluster nature of his overall batting line since that trade to Seattle, he’s handled lefties at a .287/.329/.452 clip since first being shipped out of Detroit. That output, paired with even passable glovework, would make him a valuable role player in Cleveland this season.