With the creative shuffling that came with the Evan Longoria trade, the Giants still have enough money this offseason to make one more substantial transaction and get under the luxury tax threshold. They can trade for Andrew McCutchen or sign Jay Bruce or do something we haven’t even considered yet, like swoop on Yoenis Cespedes. They have options.
But they can start by doing something unexciting and eliminating one of their biggest holes at the same time. They can sign Austin Jackson, center fielder, to a short-term deal, and then they can attack the rest of the offseason. I’ve studied all of the players available for a while, and I’m pretty sure this is the correct answer.
I’ll take some questions from the audience.
Who is Austin Jackson?
He’s a right-handed center fielder with some power and defensive skills. Even though he had a rebound season last year (.318/.387/.482 in 318 plate appearances for the Indians), he shouldn’t be too expensive.
Check off all the boxes that interest the Giants:
- solid defense
- a touch of power
- coming off a very strong season
- much cheaper than Lorenzo Cain
- probably even a little cheaper than Jarrod Dyson
- a free agent who won’t cost prospects or draft picks
- would allow the Giants to bring Steven Duggar along at their preferred pace
- won’t be on a contract that would prevent him from sliding into a fourth-outfielder role if Duggar is ready soon
No, Jackson isn’t an All-Star, but this all assumes that his contract would allow the Giants to still get an All-Star for the remaining outfield spot, too. As long as he isn’t getting $7 million a year, he’s just about the perfect fit.
Didn’t Jackson used to be bad, and isn’t there the risk that he’s bad again?
Not really. Before his mini-renaissance last year, Jackson hit .260/.311/.361 in 1,386 plate appearances from 2014 through 2016. His defense wasn’t Gold Glove-caliber, so that added up to a player who was worth about 1 WAR every season, on average. That’s a solid player.
Before that, though, he was a coveted almost-star, someone who could hit .300, lead the league in triples, and play jaw dropping defense. He had four years at that level before he dipped, and he was one of the more underrated and exciting players in baseball.
Last year’s renaissance didn’t come out of nowhere, in other words. It’s possible that his bat is coming around again.
If that’s the case, why won’t he make all sorts of money this offseason?
To be honest, I have no idea what his market is. I’m just guessing. He made $1.5 million as a part-time outfielder last year, and he might want to make $8 million as a starting outfielder.
But I’m looking through a list of teams who might want a new starting center fielder, and I’m getting this:
- White Sox
Some of those teams have plans in place, like the Indians with Bradley Zimmer or the Rangers with Delino DeShields, Jr., and it’s hard to imagine any of them giving a substantial deal to Jackson to make him their unquestioned starter. Which means that they might have interest in him the same way that the Giants do, as a starter who needs to look over his shoulder constantly.
Of those teams, though, the Giants offer the best immediate opportunity to start. And those other teams could also explore players like Dyson and Jon Jay, as well as any number of left-handed hitters who wouldn’t fit the Giants’ platonic ideal.
I’m sold. Where is the petition?
There is a slight problem of Jackson being an individual with free will. He might not want to come to the Giants. He might prefer to be a fourth outfielder on a pennant contender like the Indians. Or he might take a one-year deal in a place like Texas to see if he can keep his numbers up and hit the market next year with even more momentum. It isn’t just a matter of the Giants selecting the Austin Jackson option on their next DoorDash order.
However, if Jackson were open to playing for the Giants, it really does make a lot of sense for everyone involved. The Giants would get better for next year; Jackson would have a chance to get 500 at-bats. Duggar could show up in the middle of his season if his play demands it, or he could take his time if he struggles offensively. The Giants wouldn’t give up prospects in a trade for Billy Hamilton or Adam Jones, and they would still have money to address the remaining hole in the lineup.
This is all null and void if Jackson is more expensive than I’m giving him credit for, and that’s fine. But assuming the market isn’t white-hot for him, he’s just about the perfect fit. While I’m okay with the Giants taking their time to see where the market goes, I’m also hoping they do this very specific thing.
The Giants should sign Austin Jackson and continue to address their lineup with their remaining payroll room. I don’t not believe in this team’s ability to improve substantially, somehow. This would help.