Jun 21, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Garrett Jones (46) hits a double against the Los Angeles Angels during the fifth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Jones Designated–Could the Rays Acquire Him?

We have talked about a multiplicity of players as possibilities to be the Tampa Bay Rays’ next first baseman. None of them, though, were designated for assignment like Garrett Jones just was. The Pittsburgh Pirates have lost all their leverage as their peruse trade offers and now is the perfect time for the Rays to pounce. Could the Rays make a trade happen?

After emerging as a late bloomer for the Pirates at 28 years of age, Jones is already 32. Combine that with the fact that Jones is coming off arguably his worst season in the big leagues, hitting to just a .233/.289/.419 line (99 OPS+) with 26 doubles and 15 home runs in 440 plate appearances, and suddenly you have a player that may very well be on the decline. Jones actually is eligible for arbitration two more times, but he certainly is not cheap is he is projected to make $5.3 million next season. Honestly, the Pirates have every reason to be designating him for assignment–if they did not, they could very well have been planning to non-tender him. But amid of the reasons to dislike Jones, there is still some promise in there.

The last five years, Garrett Jones has hit to a .256/.318/.462 line (113 OPS+) with an average of 26 doubles and 20 home runs per season. Even for a player who has spent most of his time in first base and right field, those are impressive numbers. But even on the offensive side, Jones has a few too many chinks in his armor. His OBP immediately jumps out as being low, and that has only gotten worse over time–his walk rate has gone down to 6.7% the last two seasons after being 9.5% the previous three, a statistically significant difference with a p-value of just .008 (123 to 1 odds). There is no reason to think he will revert back to his more patient ways. A lefty hitter, Jones also doesn’t hit left-handed pitching at all, managing just a .578 OPS against them for his career. He was bad enough against them that the Pirates had him bat with platoon advantage 95% of the time, the highest mark in all of baseball among batters who were not switch-hitters even if you set the minimum as low as 35 plate appearances. Jones doesn’t make up for his deficiencies with his defense either, managing just a -7.0 UZR/150 at first base and a -2.4 mark in right field in over 2000 innings at each position. What does his solid performance the last five years mean for Jones if he has so little going in his favor?

Here is what Garrett Jones could be for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013: a lefty bat with real power who could see time at first base, DH, and right field. The Rays would have some payroll considerations to worry about. The minimum he could make next season is $3.375 million, and you have to assume he wants at least the $4.5 million he made in 2013–but he could give the Rays a valuable hitter who could be the larger part of a platoon at first base or DH. If it goes well, they would even have his rights for another season. If Jones passes through waivers, he is exceedingly likely to decline his outright assignment and become a free agent. If he does, the Rays might be able to sign him as a free agent for an extreme bargain price. But doing so would risk one of the other 28 teams claiming him–can every team in baseball really pass on a player who slammed 27 home runs just two seasons ago?–and that may not be a worthwhile risk when the cost to acquire Jones should only be a lower-tier prospect. Acquiring Jones would cost little aside from cash, and it would not prohibit the Rays from making a higher-profile trade for a first baseman like Ike Davis or Lucas Duda from the New York Mets should they so desire. Jones has plenty of weaknesses, but he exactly the type of player the Rays like to target, one whose flaws belie the ability he still possesses. The Rays have so little to lose acquiring Garrett Jones, and whether by a trade or a waiver claim, they should do whatever they can within reason to bring him in.

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  • phattitudes

    If we had a bigger roster he would be nice to have available. However if you assume Joyce and DeJesus are in the lineup against righties, Jones would give us a 3rd lefty who we would have to platoon. It will be hard to get the platoon production to cover all three. Right now those three platooners could be Rodriguez, Guyer, and a PTBNL. Keeping a Jones on the roster would almost dictate the need to move Joyce. That may not be all bad since Jones is more versatile. The huge question is “can he return to form”. If he is a 3M insurance policy, I would rather see the 3M added to the 1B budget if it enable us to go after Loney or Morneau.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      Yes, the Rays would only acquire Jones if they believe he can return to form. That’s a necessary component. But I think that the platoon issue is not so big because the Rays can surely find another right-handed bat (like say Delmon Young or even the ocasional Jose Lobaton at DH game).

      • phattitudes

        Here is an unrelated comment that could be a subject of a future posting. Is there a case to be made for an AL team reducing their pitching roster to 11 and keeping 14 field position players. The theory would be that there are less “forced” pitching changes due to pinch hitting for pitchers in the AL. Are AL managers just lazy in managing their pitching staffs? Theoretically the DH creates another offensive position and provides an opportunity for aging players to stay in the game and be productive. However in reality they steal a roster spot from a younger player on the rise. Might be difficult to analyze, but it may create a “opportunity” for an innovative team.

        • Robbie_Knopf

          I have a couple knee-jerk reactions that and I would be happy to make that into a “mailbag” type of post if you would like.

  • Baltar

    Robbie, I don’t see this as a good move by the Rays at all. He has averaged less than 1 WAR, including his best year in 2009, when he played a half-season unless he agrees to waive arbitration and sign for no more than $3M.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      He is a really bad defensive player, especially at first base. But his oWAR was 2.4 just last year, and if the Rays DH him and play him in his more comfortable right field when he does play in the field, there is value to be had here. We’re not talking about a star here, but Jones’ overall WAR hides the fact that he is a solid hitter that can help this team.