At this point in the offseason it is hard to find a player that hasn’t been mentioned in one rosterbation post or another. However, Andruw Jones is a name – and potential designated hitter candidate – that appears to have slipped through the cracks in both speculation and on the open market.
The former wunderkind of the mid-1990s Atlanta Braves will enter his 15th major league season in 2011. That said, after an extremely productive career with the Braves, Jones has struggled to find a permanent new address. The former gold glove centerfielder has worn the uniform of three different teams during the past three years.
Jones signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after his stint in Atlanta was through. There, he was simply atrocious; hitting just .158/.256/.249 in 75 games. At age 32, it seemed as if his major league career was quicky headed for an unfortunate crash landing. On top of the awful production, injuries and conditioning concerns followed.
In February 2009, the Texas Rangers took a chance on Jones and signed him to a minor-league contract. He participated in 82 games for Texas, but was still far from the contributor he once was. Meanwhile, in 331 plate appearances, he hit .214/.323/.459; making him an above-average hitter by the slimmest of margins.
He continued to tour the league in 2010 signing with the Chicago White Sox on a modest one-year deal. Though his playing time was sporadic, Jones was able to maintain a good level of production with a slash line of .230/.341/.486 and 19 home runs in 328 PA for Chicago. His .364 weighted on-base average (wOBA) was his highest output since 2006. Jones had an awful stretch from May to June; however, he rebounded to post a .988 OPS over his final 130 PA of the season. His favorable overall numbers were fueled by his continued ability to mash left-handed pitching (.256/.373/.558 versus LHP).
In spite of his complete power outage as a member of the Dodgers, Jones’ ISO (Isolated Power) over the past two seasons is a robust .250. In addition to the returned power, he posted career-high walk rates in back-to-back seasons (13.6% in 2009, 13.7% in 2010).
On the other hand, the rejuvenated power number coincide with Jones calling two of the more hitter-friendly parks (U.S. Cellular & the Ballpark in Arlington) his home. Away from those parks, he has been a below-average hitter. On the plus side, the Trop is relatively neutral (slightly favoring right-handed batters) and the other AL East parks are offensive in nature.
The improved walk rate and the return of his power would seem to make him an attractive option to the Rays. His right-handed bat would fit as a platoon partner for Dan Johnson at the DH or as a fourth/fifth outfielder in tandem with Matt Joyce. Considering the lack of buzz surrounding him this offseason, one would assume it would not cost much to secure his services which also fits in with the Rays’ modus operandi.