Memories of Andruw Jones always begin with the 1996 World Series against the Yankees. His amazing performance in that series as a rookie included a .400 batting average in a losing cause. Never had a rookie made his presence felt so fast and so explosive. Has it really been almost fifteen years since then? And it's been half a dozen years since Andruw Jones was everyone's favorite center fielder. He was an early star on the fledgling days of ESPN's Baseball Tonight with his nightly highlight poetics and big homeruns. That Andruw Jones is probably long gone. But Jones is now a member of the Yankees, the team he almost beat single-handedly all those years ago. And he could be a significant player for the team this season.
Most know the story of the downfall of Andruw Jones. He got fat and lazy, the story goes. He got homer happy which led to a 51 homer season, but an erosion of the rest of his batting skills. According to Fangraphs, he was a $28 million player in 2005. Just three short seasons later, he famously batted .158 for the Dodgers with a .259 slugging percentage. He was lost and he was a disaster. The Rangers picked him up in 2009 and his power picked back up but he still hit only .214 in 331 plate appearances. What looked like a sure Hall of Fame career was going up in smoke. The Rangers gave up on him too.
Jones then signed with the White Sox in 2010 and ended up posting a 119 OPS+ despite batting only .230. But .230 with his power and his ability to work a walk showed some signs that perhaps his career wasn't dead after all. Hit hit 19 homers for Ozzie Guillen in only 278 at bats and gave the White Sox almost $15 million in value. He played all three outfield positions but was best in right field. He's no longer a viable centerfielder. Those days are gone unfortunately.
And so his year with the White Sox earned him a $2.0 million contract with the Yankees for 2011. As a fourth outfielder, if he performs exactly as last year, he will be a steal. He can give Granderson and Gardner days off against tough lefties and add a potent right-handed bat into the line up. And most importantly, Jones is a good insurance policy if the Yankees want to trade Swisher in the last year of his deal.
Not that there isn't cause for some concern. While Jones can still hit a fastball and his homer to fly ball ratio is excellent, his line drive percentage has shrunk to minuscule proportions (11 percent last year). While he has a very good eye and only swung at 25 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, he is still vulnerable to the slider off the outside of the plate, something the Yankees have had a heavy dose of over the years (Soriano, Thames, etc.). His power may take a hit in the spacious left field of the Yankees. But again, even with all those negatives, he will be more valuable than Thames was for the Yankees for several reasons.
First, Thames really couldn't play the field. So if you wanted to get his bat in the line up--particularly against lefties--he had to play in the field. That wasn't pretty to watch. Jones will not be that much of a loss in the outfield when he spells those wonderful fielding outfielders the Yankees have. Plus, Jones is a more disciplined hitter than Thames, has just as much power and still runs the bases fairly well (Thames was like a lumbering bull). Jones stole nine bases in eleven attempts last year. But most importantly, if the Yankees get to the post season, Jones has a proven track record there. He has hit ten post season homers in his career and has a .797 OPS over his post season career. Thames was brutal in the post season.
It's not like Andruw Jones is an old man. At 34, he is younger than people think (he was 19 his rookie season). And with a commitment after the lost years to conditioning, he could still have a few productive seasons within him. For $2.0 million plus incentives, Jones is a sweet deal for the Yankees.