The Reds have agreed to a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Nate Jones, C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic tweets. The deal includes an invitation to big league camp. Jones would earn at a $1.5MM rate in the majors with up to a million more in incentives, per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com (via Twitter).
In Jones, the Reds are getting a native of nearby Kentucky who, when healthy, has been one of the game’s most effective relievers during his career. Jones, who debuted in 2012, owns a sterling 3.12 ERA/3.38 FIP with 9.82 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and a 46.7 percent groundball rate over 291 1/3 innings – all of which have come in a White Sox uniform.
The problem is that staying healthy has been extremely difficult for the 34-year-old Jones, which is why the Rangers declined his $3.75MM option in favor of a $1.25MM buyout in October after acquiring him in a midsummer trade. It’s also why he’s now settling for a non-guaranteed pact a few months later. A series of injuries, including right forearm surgery last season, have held Jones to 30 or fewer innings in four of the past five years. He threw a meager 10 1/3 frames in his final season as a member of the White Sox.
Despite Jones’ lack of contributions in recent years, it’s easy to see why the Reds are taking a low-risk chance on him. As mentioned, the results have been impressive when Jones has pitched. Moreover, although he lost 2 mph on his fastball during last year’s limited run, he was still throwing 95. And during his latest semi-extensive action, a 30-inning showing in 2018, Jones recorded a 13.6 percent swinging-strike rate that sat well above the league mean of 10.7.
Health permitting, Jones will vie for a role in a Cincinnati bullpen that hovered around average in 2019. Although the front office has been active in upgrading the team’s roster this winter, the bullpen hasn’t undergone any especially significant changes. Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen and Robert Stephenson figure to lead the unit again in 2020, but perhaps Jones will surprise and join them as one of the Reds’ key late-game options.