As expected, the Los Angeles Dodgers released Andruw Jones, arranging to pay his salary over the course of several years.
All along, it was expected that Jones would return to the Braves, as he always felt very comfortable in Atlanta and enjoyed playing for Bobby Cox. In fact, over the past few days Jones has been seen practicing with Chipper Jones and wearing a Braves cap at basketball games.
However, the Braves are not exactly welcoming him back with open arms — and may not offer him a contract at all.
The issue is simple — the Braves have a full 40-man roster stocked with an abundance of young talent. If they sign Jones to a MLB contract, they’d have to drop someone off — and that someone would likely be a strong prospect, who would be picked up by another team. Further, the Braves do not currently have a need for Jones, as they have an abundance of outfielders led by Jeff Francoeur and youngsters Josh Anderson and Brandon Jones. To make room, the Braves would likely have to either waive or trade someone like Gregor Blanco, Martin Prado, or Omar Infante. None of those players are stars, but all three showed offensive promise in 2008, are fairly young, versatile, and can do a lot of things a team needs from role players. Bobby Cox’s formula for success has always included the flexibility of such players — guys who may not be sluggers, but can execute all the “little things” and help the team in many other ways. Andruw Jones would have to have a great spring training to push one of those guys off the roster.
Because of the Braves’ lukewarm interest, Andruw Jones has to look for other options, and according to MLB.com:
Jones has told friends that he believes the Reds and Mets could make a push to acquire him. Both of these teams reportedly talked to the Dodgers about acquiring him via trade earlier this offseason.
Personally, I hope that’s true. Say what you want about Jones being finished, being a lazy fat pig, being finished, etc. etc. etc. Bottom line is this: the Mets are in DIRE need of a power hitting, righthanded-hitting corner outfielder. The current free agent market offers exactly one person to fit that description — Manny Ramirez — and all indications are that the Mets refuse to go that route. After Manny, the market drops considerably for a RH-hitting outfielder: Kevin Millar, Jacque Jones, Jay Payton, Emil Brown, and Jonny Gomes. That’s it, folks! Now you tell me — would you prefer to bring in one of those underwhelming possibilities, or take a $400,000 gamble on Andruw Jones?
Earlier this winter, I make the argument that the Mets should try to swap Castillo for Jones — such a deal would have had the Mets paying $15M for Jones (but also shedding $18M of Castillo’s contract). It would have been nice for the Mets to be $3M ahead and have Jones, but the same arguments apply for bringing him in on the MLB minimum salary — it’s a low-risk gamble that has the chance of paying off big.
Here’s my feeling: either Andruw Jones is going to hit again, or he’s not, and everything is based on him being healthy and regaining his confidence. If he has a promising, injury-free spring training, there’s a very good chance he’ll come back and hit 20-25 HR, with game-changing ability. He’s that kind of player, and there aren’t many around. If he looks awful in spring training, no biggie — you release him outright, and eat $400K. Jones is exactly the right fit for the penny-pinching Mets: he’ll come dirt cheap, he’ll be a one-year rental to keep LF warm for F-Mart, he has a RH bat, and he has extensive postseason success.
Last year, the Mets waited three months for their $16M investment in Carlos Delgado to pay off. Eventually, their patience was rewarded — handsomely. Without Delgado, the Mets might have finished in third place in 2008. Similarly, the Mets once gambled millions on Mo Vaughn, though that didn’t turn out quite so well. But it’s worth it for a team to take such risks when the upside is so great — Delgado, Vaughn, and Jones all had the skillset to be a monster for stretches at a time, to put a team on its back and carry them. The difference with Jones is, at 31, younger than either of them were (Vaughn was 34, Delgado 36), and won’t cost anywhere near the millions gambled on a comeback.
Unless the Mets reconsider their feelings about Manny Ramirez, or have some blockbuster trade in the works, picking up Andruw Jones is a no-brainer.