Buster Olney suggests the New York Yankees are the frontrunners in the Andruw Jones’ sweepstakes. If they should advance their position then the Rays will be left with an interesting dilemma if they do indeed sign a designated hitter. From there, they have to make a decision on whether to pursue a right-handed corner outfielder or simply the best bat available.
If the goal with Jones is to add an upside play, then the remaining options of right-handed corner outfielders who pound lefties will not spawn the same levels of attraction. In fact, the best option remaining might be an old friend by the name of Gabe. Kapler has easily outhit the remaining choices over the last three seasons versus lefties, with a few low-cost options in hot pursuit:
(Jermaine Dye is not included since he’s really not much of an outfielder, even less so than Thames)
Unfortunately, Kapler might fall to the rare career-ending ankle sprain, which leaves Hairston, Thames, and Milledge out there for perusal. Of those, Hairston is the best and provides the most defensive flexibility. It is also worth noting that he produced those numbers while playing in San Diego and Oakland, where arctic conditions greet offensive expeditions. Thames spent last season with the Yankees and has some experience at first base (44 games worth, Jones has eight, for comparison) while Milledge was playing poor defense and running the bases unimpressively with the Pirates.
If the Rays pass on the right-handed outfielders, there’s still plenty of free agent options available, but most play first base and bat lefty, which either pushes Dan Johnson into the Willy Aybar role or into a spot on the bench. Nevertheless, losing out on Jones would not be the worst outcome of the offseason.