Pitchers and catchers report in 23 days and, to be expected, the pickings on the free-agent market are slim. The biggest news in the past few weeks has been reliever Rafael Soriano signing with the New York Yankees.
The 31-year-old who previously closed for the Tampa Bay Rays was given $35 million over three years to be Mariano Rivera’s set-up man—money the Yankees always seem to have at their disposal no matter how much they spend.
New York remained busy, adding outfielder Andruw Jones on a one-year pact worth $2 million. He will fill the role left by Marcus Thames, who recently signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers after providing some pop with the Yankees last season as their fourth outfielder.
The last few years of Jones’ career have not gone the way he would have liked. He was one of the two Jones Boys on the Atlanta Braves from 1996-2007—teaming up with Chipper—but his final year with the organization was the start of his downturn.
Coming off a 2006 season in which he clubbed 41 homers, drove in 129 and batted his usual .262, he hit 15 fewer homers, drove in 35 fewer RBI and batted 40 points lower while appearing in only two fewer games. That sudden decline in production made him a platoon player in suitors' eyes.
He was just that for the next three seasons. And not a very good one, either.
Over those seasons spent with the Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, Jones hit rock-bottom. With Los Angeles he hit .158 in 72 games. With Texas he batted .214. And with the White Sox he mustered a .230 average.
There was a silver lining in Chicago, though, which helped land him the contract with New York: He hit 19 homers. The Yankees have always looked to add power, and given Yankee Stadium’s hitter-friendly dimensions, there is a chance he can expand upon that total, albeit in a limited role.
He is a low-risk, high-reward signing. If he performs well, good for the Yankees. If he doesn’t, they have the money to find someone else to fill his role. As a fan of Jones, I want him to do well.
He does have 407 homers in his career—51 coming in 2005—and is closing in on 2,000 hits. These statistics complement his five All-Star selections and 10 Gold Gloves. What he did during his prime makes his downfall painful to digest. Chipper was my favorite, but Andruw made the Braves especially enjoyable to watch as a kid.
Five years ago, it appeared Jones would be a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame once he hung up his spikes, despite hitting in the .260s over the course of his prime. But, in hitting a measly .212 over the next four seasons, any chance of being enshrined washed away.
Now, suiting up in pinstripes, he won’t be the player he was long ago, and he probably will not hit .280 as Thames did. But he will bring an excellent glove, an ability to play all three outfield positions and power from the right side of the plate.
His agent, the infamous Scott Boras, has touted him as an everyday player. But I’m sure Jones is just looking to improve the disappointing numbers put up over the past three seasons and help the Yankees contend with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
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