HOWARD MEGDAL: Seeing Andruw Jones’ decline is still nearly impossible for me to believe.
This Willie Mays of our generation, the center fielder with 10 Gold Gloves and 342 home runs- by AGE 29!!!- signed a one-year deal for $500,000 with the Chicago White Sox. How can he not be worth that? Or far more than that?
I still remember him effortlessly getting to any fly ball. His ease was infuriating to opponents- but there was an appreciation that someone truly incomparable was on the field.
How did he manage to post a .207/.304/.393 batting line in 2007-2009? How could his defense have suffered so much that the Rangers played him at Designated Hitter?!?
Through age 29, his offensive comp, according to Baseball-reference.com, was Frank Robinson. That’s right: he was Frank Robinson at bat, plus 10 gold gloves in center field defensively. He was that good.
Now, his closest comp is Dale Murphy, another player who inexplicably veered from the Hall of Fame track with too quick a decline.
A resurgence wouldn’t shock me. If he simply averages 23 home runs a year from age 33-37, he’ll get to 500. Add that to his unimpeachable peak, and Jones can still make the Hall of Fame.
I, for one, hope it happens. As a baseball fan, I feel robbed by his career.
CHRIS PUMMER: Jones might only be a shadow of his early career glory, but for the money this is a terrific signing for the White Sox.
If Jones is the hitter he was on the balance of 2009 — not as good as his blazing start, but not as dismal as his second half — he’ll approximate the offensive production the Sox got from Jermaine Dye last season.
Where Jones stands to be a huge upgrade is with the glove. Although he didn’t play the outfield corners much last year, UZR still had him at more than 20 runs above average if he were to play there full time. That’s too small a sample to be meaningful, but taken with his history as a great center fielder, we can assume he can cut it out there. And considering Dye was more than 20 runs below average, that’s a massive improvement.
And that’s assuming the White Sox don’t like their other options on the free-agent market. At the press conference to announce the signing of Jones, everyone seemed to be on the same page that his intended role would be as a reserve and the Sox would continue to troll the free agent market for their starter.
This is a win-win for the Sox.
Another, more reliable outfield option should be available on the cheap — either by free agency or the kind of transaction where they netted Alex Rios in exchange for taking his contract. Then Jones is only counted on to give them about 300 at-bats, mostly against left-handed pitching, in spot action in the outfield. He’d also represent a decent option should Carlos Quentin suffer another injury.
Should that better option never materialize, the Sox are still likely to have a nifty upgrade from what they ran out there last season.
The only downside will be if Jones bombs next spring. But since he’s not being counted on, or breaking the bank, it’s hard not to like this move.