Initially, I had planned on posting a full overview of what I would do to reshape the M’s this offseason if the world came crashing down and I was magically installed as the Mariner GM. As I tinkered with the roster, however, I started making decisions that were going to require some fairly in depth explanations. Like the Kevin Brown idea, for instance, which most of you hated even after I did an entire post on my train of thought.
So, rather than drop the full roster construction post on you at once without any explanation, I’m going to break down the bigger pieces into their own seperate posts. I’ve already addressed Brown as an option for a back-of-the-rotation starter. Today, I move on to adding that “left-handed sock” that the club has repeatedly referred to. And we’re not talking footwear.
With the trade of Randy Winn and the injury to Chris Snelling, the M’s are missing a left fielder who can take advantage of Safeco Field’s short porch down the right field line. Raul Ibanez’s defense makes him a prime candidate to DH, and with Safeco rewarding teams who have flycatchers who can chase balls in the gaps, there is still a good amount of wisdom in acquiring a player who actually has some skills with the glove. The perfect fit for the M’s would be an above average defensive player who swings from the left side and hits the crap out of the baseball.
Unfortunately, those guys just aren’t available. Brian Giles could potentially fit the bill, but he’s not likely to leave San Diego, is looking for a big payday, and is reaching the end of his career. So, assuming Giles and Matsui aren’t going to be realistic targets, especially with the team having to rebuild nearly the whole rotation, we’re looking for an opportunity to bring in a quality player who can contribute to the team without breaking the bank.
Ladies and Gentleman, Jacque Jones.
Okay, okay, I know, he hit .249/.321/.438 this year. Not exactly the big bat everyone was hoping for, is he? His plate discipline is legitimately terrible, and his .258 EqA places him as a league average hitter playing one of the easiest defensive positions in baseball. His offensive production the past two years is actually fairly similar to what Adrian Beltre put up for the M’s this season. And I don’t think I’m going to win anyone over by saying that acquiring another 2005 version of Adrian Beltre was going to save the Mariner offense.
Stay with me, though. I’m not insane. Really.
Take a look at these numbers over the past four seasons:
Vs Left: 608 AB, .229/.285/.365
Vs Right: 1510 AB, .277/.338/.472
Jacque Jones cannot hit lefties. At all. Since 2002, against southpaws, he’s drawn 37 walks and struck out 147 times. His line against left-handed pitchers makes him the rough offensive equivalent of someone like Jason Phillips or Neifi Perez. In other words, not anyone you want in your line-up.
But against right-handers, he’s pretty darn good. His line against righties the past four years puts him in the category of guys like Carlos Lee, Jose Guillen, and Shawn Green. When a right-handed pitcher is on the hill, Jones is a well above average offensive force, even when compared to other left fielders. You’d like to see a higher OBP, but the power is a legitimate offensive weapon that the team lacks. Jones has “left-handed sock”, if you will. But he only has it against 75 percent of the major league pitchers out there.
To be truly effective, Jones needs to be platooned. At 30 years old, he’s had plenty of time to make adjustments and show some improvement against lefties. He hasn’t. So he shouldn’t play against them. This puts a cap on his value, since he would begin 25 percent of the M’s games seated on the bench. However, that flaw in and of itself isn’t enough to disqualify him. Even if he only manages 450 at-bats next year while hitting .270/.330/.470, that’s worth approximately 25 runs on offense. 25 runs is a significant upgrade from what the M’s got from their left-fielders this season. Creating 25 runs with his bat would have made him the 4th best hitter on the Mariners this year.
However, 25 runs from a left fielder isn’t the kind of production you’re looking from in a left fielder, especially one who is going to command a multimillion dollar deal as a free agent. Thankfully, offense is only part of the Jacque Jones story.
We’ll be the first to admit that defensive statistics are flawed. When evaluating defense, we need to speak in generalities. We have a pretty good idea of who is good and who is bad, but we don’t have anything like the tools we do to evaluate offense production. The defensive metrics that have been developed based on proprietary play-by-play data hardly ever agree anyways.
But occassionally, they do. And in Jacque Jones case, they agree that the man is pretty freaking awesome defensively.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Jones was 12 runs better than an average right fielder this season.
UZR had Jones as being 11 runs better than an average left fielder from 2000-2003.
PMR thinks that Jones was worth about 9 runs over an average right fielder last season.
Lastly, David Gassko’s new stat put Jones at 23 (!) runs above average for 2004.
Keep in mind, all these stats are compared to the league average. Calculating replacement level for defense is a bit tricky, and we don’t have something like VORP for defense, but it’d be fair to say that all of the advanced defensive metrics make Jacque Jones worth something like 25-35 runs better than a replacement level defensive corner outfielder.
In other words, his defense is more valuable than his offense. And his offense is league average!
Jacque Jones is from the Mike Cameron school of undervalued players. They aren’t exactly the same type (Cameron actually walked and was otherworldly in center field), but the analogy fits as a blunt tool. Jones isn’t a great hitter, but he is a tremendous asset with the glove. The combination of his value added by whalloping right-handed pitching and playing great defense is a valuable, and generally underrated, asset.
After the 2003 season, the Mariners decided to take a huge hit on defense to make a minor upgrade on offense, and it cost them dearly. While the focus continues to be on adding “a big bat”, and fans clamor for a superstar hitter, the fact remains that acquiring a world class defensive left fielder who can also hit a bit will have a similar positive effect on the team’s ability to outscore their opponents. I’m fairly sure the comments will be filled with folks who simply want a big stick and don’t like the idea of Jones, because, after all, this team needs to score more runs.
In reality, however, the team’s problem isn’t that they didn’t score enough runs. It’s that they didn’t outscore their opponents by enough runs. Run prevention or run production achieve the same goal. The M’s have a chance to acquire a guy who, between the two, adds a significant amount of runs to the team. He just doesn’t add them all at the plate.
Okay, so, how much will Jones cost? He made $6.2 million this year after being arbitration eligible following last season, but before the injury to Jason Kubel, he was almost certainly going to be non-tendered by the Twins. So, heading into the 2005 season, his market value was assessed to be right around the $6 million mark for one season.
Look at some of the contracts signed by comparable players last offseason:
Richard Hidalgo: 1 year, $5 million
Jeromy Burnitz: 1 year, $5 million
Jermaine Dye: 2 years, $10 million
Moises Alou: 2 years, $13 million
Two years ago, the standard contract for a corner outfielder was 2 years, $6 million. That’s what Jose Guillen, Rondell White, and Reggie Sanders signed for.
The market for solid but unspectacular corner outfielders has been set pretty evenly the past couple of seasons; short term, mid-millions range. Jones overall numbers are dragged down by his poor showing against lefties and the Twins refusal to platoon him, so he may not even match what the top guys in his level from each of the last few classes have gotten. He’ll be looking for something like 3 years, $18 million, but more than likely have to settle for something like 2 years and $12 million. $6 million per year for a player worth between 4-5 wins? That’s a bargain, especially in the free agent market, where wins generally go for between $2-4 million apiece.
Now, if the M’s go through with my endoresement of Jacque Jones, they’re certainly going to have to acquire a platoon partner for him that can be expected to play well and get 200-250 at-bats a year. I’ll do a Reshaping The Bench piece at a later date, but to head off too many questions now, I’ll mention that a guy like Marcus Thames could be had for a song, and he’d be a perfect fit with Jones. Between the two of them, you’re not going to pay more than $6.5 million a year, you’re going to have a short term commitment, and you’re going to get something like 60-70 runs out of your left field platoon.
Jones is not a classic statistical darling, but for the 2006 Mariners, Jacque Jones is a great fit. At 2 years, $12 million, he’d be a steal for the M’s. He gets my vote to wear the Left-Handed Sock.