The San Francisco Giants’ search for a cheap, veteran centerfielder ended Monday, when the team inked Austin Jackson to a two-year deal.
“We are excited to have Austin join the Giants,” general manager Bobby Evans said in a news release. “He is a talented and versatile player who will strengthen our roster and provide additional depth at all three outfield positions.”
Jackson fills several needs for the Giants. He made his name as one of the best defensive outfielders in Major League Baseball. As a younger player, he handled the expansive center field in Comerica Park, so he’s familiar with taking on a considerable challenge. He also adds speed and occasional power.
And unlike Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, Jackson (who turns 31 in February) is coming off a career year.
Here’s a breakdown of the low-risk acquisition that took the Giants one step closer to claiming second place in the NL West:
WHO DID THE GIANTS GET?
Jackson has been a fixture in the AL Central for most of his career. His first four years in Major League Baseball were with the Detroit Tigers, for whom he hit leadoff and played centerfield.
He hasn’t held down an every-day role since 2014. He played 139 games over the last two seasons combined.
Last year, he experienced a resurgence with the Cleveland Indians. As the fourth outfielder for the AL Central champions, he hit .318/.387/.482 (126 OPS+) while playing in 85 games. He was also an effective platoon player as he excelled against left-handed pitching for the first time in his career.
Giants fans should know: Jackson isn’t going to solve all of the team’s problems, but he’s a great complementary piece for a team that desperately needed another outfielder. Earlier in his career, you could count on him hitting double-figure triples. But he hasn’t been the same player since leaving Detroit.
The best part of the deal for San Francisco: For the amount of money, he allows the team flexibility and a veteran to take the pressure off the young guys on Opening Day (more on that later).
WHAT DID IT COST THE GIANTS?
Not much. Jackson signed for two years and $6 million, allowing the Giants to stay under the competitive balance tax in 2018.
Jon Heyman tweeted Jackson could make an additional $2.5 million in escalators. The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly followed that up with a report that the money would only hit the books in 2019. So the Giants are safe with this signing. They won’t lose draft picks by being on the wrong side of the luxury tax.
Austin Jackson’s $2.5 million in escalators are for 2019 and based on plate appearances in 2018. So SF can lock in $3 million for Jackson’s contribution to their CBT payroll in ’18. (In other words, they remain barely under the $197 million threshold.)
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) January 23, 2018
The move is a testament to how unfortunate this offseason has been for players. Spotrac estimated Jackson’s market value as more than $10 million for a season. Yahoo columnist Jeff Passan thought he could’ve gotten $15 million in previous winters.
Whatever the real reason for the players not receiving as much as originally thought, this move represents a win for the Giants who needed to fill out the lineup but didn’t want to splurge on a player like Lorenzo Cain.
By avoiding going over the CBT, San Francisco holds onto key draft picks that it would otherwise have to surrender. The team may want to challenge the Dodgers for NL West supremacy now, but it isn’t totally neglecting the future.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE GIANTS?
Every move Evans and Brian Sabean have made this offseason has made sense if you accept their premise that this team can be a contender.
Unlike last season, the Giants are going to have clear answers during Spring Training to questions like “Who is going to play left field?”
Basically, the team thinks it’s horrible 2017 was the product of bad luck. If Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto don’t battle injuries all season, the thinking goes, San Francisco would’ve been more like the 2016 version than it showed.
Assuming everyone can make it to Opening Day healthy, this is roughly what the lineup will look like:
- Jackson, 8
- Joe Panik, 4
- McCutchen, 9
- Longoria, 5
- Buster Posey, 2
- Brandon Belt, 3
- Brandon Crawford, 6
- Hunter Pence, 8
- Madison Bumgarner, 1
That’s not terrible. And by having more depth than they did last year, the Giants will be able to sustain injuries in the outfield.
Say Pence is limited by his hamstring again, manager Bruce Bochy could move Jackson over into that slot and have Steven Duggar (the latest prospect who fans hope is great) play center. Gorkys Hernandez, Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson will all get a shot at being the first outfielder off the bench in Spring Training and that’s a role that makes a lot more sense than expecting one of them to be an everyday starter.
(And that’s all assuming the Giants don’t add another centerfielder in the coming weeks.)
Getting productive players on favorable contracts is an easy formula for success. Assuming Jackson can fulfill the reasonable expectations placed on him by this short-term deal, the Giants will be in a position to keep games close and hopefully recapture some of that magic that led to one of the most successful stretches in baseball history.
Of course, it’s a real possibility it goes the other way …
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE GIANTS?
Adding a couple cheap bullpen players and hoping Duggar develops.
Fans shouldn’t expect any more big names being added to the roster. And if the Giants do add a recognizable veteran, it’ll be an attempted reclamation project as a non-roster camp invitee. Think: Jimmy Rollins from last season.
They could trade for another outfielder, but he’s going to have to be young so the Giants can stay under the CBT. Basically, it’s a Keon Broxton-type or bust.
With Mark Melancon and Will Smith reportedly healthy and on pace to be ready to go in the spring (as Evans said last Friday after Longoria’s introduction press conference), the bullpen has a decent composition. Hunter Strickland had one of his best seasons as a pro last year (throwing at Bryce Harper notwithstanding), and Sam Dyson has proven worthy of being called upon when he isn’t struggling with location.
Being able to identify relief pitchers on the verge of great seasons would validate Evans. He’s come under fire from many fans recently and establishing which bullpen arms can actually get the job done and which can’t is a tough, mostly thankless job. But it also separates the people who know what works and those who don’t.
SHOULD GIANTS FANS BE HAPPY?
Generally, yes. This move will limit Hernandez’s playing and from my understanding of Giants fans, that’ll make them happy.
And I’ll also recycle a line from my breakdown of the Giants adding McCutchen: “The front office is trying, and that still counts for something. Besides, Giants fans aren’t allowed to be anything but happy after winning three titles in five seasons. That’s something that can’t be said enough.”