June 10: Jones indeed cleared waivers and has been sent outright to Triple-A Toledo, per an announcement from the Tigers. He’ll remain with the organization and collect the remainder of this year’s salary but no longer occupy a spot on the 40-man roster. As a player with three-plus years of service who has been outrighted from the 40-man roster, he’ll be able to become a free agent at season’s end (unless he’s selected back to Majors and finishes the year on their 40-man roster).
June 6: The Tigers announced they’re selecting the contract of right-hander Jason Foley from Triple-A Toledo. To create 40-man roster space, they’re designating outfielder JaCoby Jones for assignment. Additionally, righty Michael Fulmer has been placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to June 3, with a right shoulder strain. As expected, José Ureña has been reinstated from the IL to take Fulmer’s place on the active roster.
Jones’ designation registers as something of a surprise. Acquired from the Pirates at the 2015 trade deadline in exchange for Joakim Soria, Jones has appeared in the big leagues with Detroit in each of the past six seasons. He’s been a fairly regular contributor between 2018-21, starting about half the team’s games between center and left field. Altogether, Jones managed just a .219/.282/.389 (78 wRC+) mark in that time, albeit with intermittent flashes of enough power and defensive upside to keep the Detroit front office intrigued.
Across the board, advanced defensive metrics lauded Jones’ glovework between center and left field in 2018. The Tigers gambled he could play a full-time center field after that season, although the metrics all suggest he dropped off rather significantly in that regard between 2019-21. Jones has proven similarly inconsistent on the other side of the ball. Despite always-lofty strikeout rates, the right-handed hitter has occasionally shown enough thump to be a productive hitter. That was particularly true in 2020, when Jones hit .268/.333/.515 across 108 plate appearances before suffering a season-ending hand fracture.
For as strong as Jones began the 2020 season, he opened 2021 with an absolutely dismal start at the plate. He hit just .170/.210/.250 over 105 trips to the dish, leading the Tigers to demote him to Toledo. Things haven’t gotten much better with the Mud Hens, as Jones is off to a .205/.255/.364 start in the minors, where he’s struck out in 18 of his first 47 plate appearances.
The Tigers will now have a week to trade Jones or place him on outright waivers. Any team that claims Jones off waivers would assume the remaining portion of his $2.65MM salary (approximately $1.7MM). Given Jones’ immense struggles this season, it seems unlikely another club will put in a claim, although it’s at least possible the Tigers could agree to pay down some of that money in exchange for a prospect if a rival team has interest in acquiring Jones via a small trade.
The more probable outcome is that Jones will clear waivers and be sent outright to Toledo. As a player with between three and five years of MLB service time, Jones technically has the right to refuse a minor league assignment and elect free agency. Doing so, however, would require forfeiting the remainder of his guaranteed salary, so Jones would almost certainly accept an outright assignment and look to play his way back to Detroit at some point this season.
Foley, a 25-year-old reliever, is now in line to make his major league debut. In their writeup of the Tigers farm system, Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein of FanGraphs note that Foley works in the 96-99 MPH range with his fastball. Longenhagen and Goldstein call Foley a potential “foundational piece of the Tigers bullpen,” but note that his relatively advanced age and injury history, including a 2018 Tommy John surgery, add some risk to the profile. Foley has thrown ten innings of four-run ball with ten strikeouts and four walks at Triple-A this season, his first crack at the minors’ highest level.