What You Need To Know About The Austin Jackson Signing
It appears that a few weeks into spring training, with nearly four Cactus League games under their belt, the White Sox offseason is officially over.
Jon Heyman broke the news on Sunday that the White Sox had signed Austin Jackson to a one-year, $5 million deal. It doesn't come as much of a surprise. According to reports, the White Sox were still very interested in adding another outfielder to the mix, and while they had been bandied about as a trade partner for guys like Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez, I always thought signing Jackson to a cheap deal made the most sense.
And that's exactly what has happened. So what does it mean? Let's figure that out.
IS AUSTIN JACKSON THE FOURTH OUTFIELDER, OR IS HE REPLACING AVISAIL GARCIA?
It's hard to know for sure before seeing him play, but my gut tells me that he's going to be a starting outfielder more than a fourth. In a perfect world I think the White Sox would prefer to put Austin Jackson in centerfield and move Adam Eaton to a corner. Sure, Eaton doesn't exactly profile as your typical corner outfielder when it comes to his bat, but playing in the corner could go a long way to keeping him healthy.
So I think the real plan would be to have Jackson in center, Eaton in one corner, and then Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia splitting time in the other corner. Furthermore, Avisail could serve as a left-handed platoon partner for Adam LaRoche at designated hitter, with Cabrera and Eaton also getting some games at DH just to rest.
In other words, signing Jackson not only saves Robin Ventura from having to send Avisail Garcia out to right field every day, but it gives him a bit more flexibility with his lineup than having J.B. Shuck or Jerry Sands as his fourth outfielder would have.
OKAY, WELL ASIDE FROM MOVING, COULD THIS MEAN ANYTHING ELSE FOR ADAM EATON?
My, what an excellent question.
It's only been four games, but if you've been paying attention, you've noticed that Adam Eaton is yet to play the outfield this spring. He's played exclusively at DH. Adam Eaton had arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder following the 2015 season, and it's not exactly back to full strength as of yet.
So the possibility remains that when the Sox head to Oakland to begin the regular season, Eaton's shoulder still won't be ready to play in the outfield. Which means that Jackson provides some insurance there, because Robin can keep Eaton at DH for a while and use Jackson, Melky and Avi in the outfield. It's not an ideal situation, but it's better than the alternatives.
THAT'S GOOD, BUT WHAT ABOUT AUSTIN JACKSON? HE'S TAILED OFF A BIT IN RECENT YEARS.
There's no denying that.
In his first four seasons Jackson was a .278/.344/.416 hitter with the Detroit Tigers. He struck out a lot, but he got on base too, and he played excellent defense in the vast centerfield of Comerica Park, making him worth 18.9 bWAR in that span.
In the last two seasons Jackson's hit only .261/.310/.364, and has been worth 3.3 bWAR. His strikeout rate has remained about the same, but his walk rate's dropped a bit.
If you look a bit deeper, though, you see something of a trend.
Jackson's been traded twice the last two seasons. In 2014 the Tigers traded him to Seattle, and then last year Seattle traded him to the Cubs.
In 2014 while with the Tigers Jackson was hitting .273/.332/.398 before being traded. Then, while in Seattle, Jackson hit .229/.267/.260. There was a similar drop-off after being moved in 2015 as well. Jackson played in 107 games with the Mariners and hit .272/.312/.387 before being dealt to the Cubs. Then, in Chicago, he hit .236/.304/.375.
So two years in a row he was traded, and two years in a row his numbers dropped off drastically after the trade. Now, if you look at his career as a whole, Jackson's always been a little better in the first half of the season when compared to the second half, but the key word there is "little." It's not a significant drop, and without the last two seasons, he may have actually been a better second half hitter before that.
What I take away from this is that it's entirely possible that it was being traded during the season and having to adjust to a new team that threw Jackson off his game the last two seasons, not just an overall decline in skills.
Perhaps by beginning the season with the White Sox we'll see a player whose performance is a lot closer to the pre-trade Austin Jackson than the post-trade versions. And if that's the player we get, that's a major upgrade over what we saw from Avisail Garcia, both at the dish and in the outfield.
WELL WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CONCERNS?
As I mentioned briefly, Jackson's walk rate has dipped each of the last two seasons. Through his first four years Jackson walked 8.6% of the time. The last two seasons his walk rate is down to 6.4% and only 5.5% last season.
Considering his career strikeout rate of 23.5%, and the fact he doesn't have a ton of pop in his bat (.399 career slugging, .126 ISO) you'd prefer he it if he took more walks. If he did, he'd be a lot more valuable as a hitter, and a possibility at the top of the order with Adam Eaton ahead of Jose Abreu.
The reality, however, is that he's a middle to the back of the order bat, but he's still an upgrade over Avisail to this point, and that's what the Sox need.
There are some concerns defensively too.
Defensive metrics vary, but most of them agree that while Jackson was a very good centerfielder when he first joined the Tigers, he's tailed off a bit since then. He's still not bad, however, and he's likely going to be the best defensive outfielder the White Sox have. That being said, guys typically don't become better defenders as they age, and Jackson's 29 now, not 23.
All that said, even if Austin Jackson doesn't turn out to be an above average player, he provides the White Sox with depth. Like, legit MLB team depth, which is something they just haven't had a lot of in Robin Ventura's tenure.
DIDN'T I SEE A REPORT THAT JACKSON TURNED DOWN A SIMILAR OFFER FROM THE ANGELS A FEW WEEKS AGO, FOR LIKE $6 MILLION?
Yes you did, and according to Jon Heyman, Jackson turned down larger offers because the White Sox were offering him the chance to play centerfield rather than left field. So I guess we know what the Angels wanted him to do.
I'm just happy because now we can say two players turned down more money to play for the White Sox this winter, as Jackson joins Mat Latos.
The White Sox are a hot free agent destination!
SO THIS IS A GOOD SIGNING THEN?
I certainly think so. At one-year and $5 million it doesn't carry much risk. Either Jackson plays well, and the White Sox contend for a playoff spot, or the White Sox suck and Jackson gets traded for the third straight summer.
And even if that happens we already know we'll win the trade because Austin Jackson tanks after being traded!