The first memory most fans have of Andruw Jones is witnessing the then-teenager terrorize the New York Yankees in Game One of the 1996 World Series. While Jones’ Braves ultimately came up short in that Fall Classic, the Curacao native announced his presence as a future star by belting two home runs (replacing Mickey Mantle as the youngest ever to go deep in the World Series) and striding swiftly to fly balls that mere mortals would have to dive for, or miss altogether.
Now, Jones’ career has come full circle. He has reportedly signed a one-year, $2 million deal to serve as the Yankees’ fourth outfielder, with an additional $1.2 million in performance incentives possible. Thirty-four in April, Jones has the secondary skills to start for some teams, and he may now be the best reserve fly catcher in the game.
Just a few years ago, Jones’ career looked cooked. He seemingly went on the Rich Garces Fitness Plan and suffered a right knee injury with the Dodgers in 2008, posting a .234 wOBA and performing nearly a full win worse than your garden variety waiver claim or minor league free agent. But since he left the West Cost, Jones has rebounded with wOBAs of .338 in 331 plate appearances with the Rangers in 2009 and .364 this past year in 328 trips to the plate with the White Sox.
While Rangers Ballpark and U.S. Cellular Field both boost right-handed power, Jones’ park and league-adjusted wOBA was still 14 percent above average (114 wRC+) from ’09 to ’10. As usual, his batting average on balls in play was far lower than most (.230 from ’09 to ’10, .274 career), but he walked in close to 14 percent of his plate appearances and posted an Isolated Power of exactly .250.
As a power hitter who performs best when pulling the ball — he has a .451 wOBA when ripping pitches to the left side over the past two years, compared to a .419 average for righty batters — Jones should find Yankee Stadium to his liking. The park is a neutral venue overall due to fewer doubles and triples being hit, but it boosts right-handed homers by 10 percent.
Jones is expected to shuttle around the outfield in the Bronx, occasionally filling in for lefties Brett Gardner (.316 wOBA in 262 career PA versus LHP) and Curtis Granderson (.275 career wOBA in 859 PA against southpaws) and perhaps getting some DH starts as well. It’s a role that he’ll fill well, and credit should go to the Yankees for adding a quality player to the roster at a minimal cost. But it’s arguably a role for which Jones is overqualified.
Gauging Jones’ defensive chops is admittedly difficult at this point, as he hasn’t played the outfield on more than a part-time basis since 2007. Maybe teams think he’s no longer a viable option as a regular outfielder. But if you think he can still cut it out there and he can put up a .340-.350 wOBA, Jones projects as a starting-caliber player. At this late juncture of free agency, however, jobs are scarce. In any event, kudos to the Yankees for bolstering their bench for an AL East Division fight that figures to be fierce yet again.
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