Numerous local and national media sources, including Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, are now reporting that the Texas Rangers have agreed to terms with free-agent outfielder Andruw Jones on a minor league deal that will pay the five-time All-Star $500,000 if he makes the Opening Day roster, as well as additional incentives -- worth up to $1 million -- if he logs regular playing time, topping out at 620 major league plate appearances in 2009.
The presence of baseball's preeminent hitting instructor, Rudy Jaramillo (who worked out with Jones at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on January 26th), reportedly played a pivotal role in Andruw's decision to spurn the Yankees' offer of a minor league deal and join Texas, whose imminent signing of the 32-year-old slugger was apparently predicated to some extent on the positive first impression Jones projected to the Rangers with respect to his "slimmed down" figure and "good-looking" surgically repaired right knee.
From the standpoint that the Rangers already possess five viable major league outfielders (Brandon Boggs, Marlon Byrd, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, and David Murphy) and not enough plate appearances to properly evaluate all of them, this "low-risk" commitment would superficially appear to make little sense. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that the organization's assessment of its outfield situation does wholly mirror that of its polarized fan base.
It's no secret that the Rangers would like to slide Hamilton to a corner outfield spot, and the acquisition of Jones could enable that move sooner rather than later. Should Jones falter in spring training and/or prove incapable of playing center field in light of his recently questionable physical status, the Rangers will turn back to their internal options; minor league outfielder Julio Borbon, the central figure in Jason Parks's latest "BBTiA Scouting Series" installment, is expected to begin the 2009 season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and could be in line for a promotion to Arlington sometime this coming summer.
The prevailing fear is that the installation of Jones in center field could conceivably squeeze one of his younger and more controllable counterparts (e.g. Cruz, whose 2009 offensive projections have been stellar across the gamut of player forecasting systems) out of the major league picture entirely during a season when (a) the Rangers need to find out as much as possible about the talent they already have on hand and (b) even a stunning return to relevance by Jones would likely be difficult to convert into anything resembling substantive trade value.
Moreover, I've long emphasized the fallacy of spring training statistics in determining roster additions and deletions, and while Jones would presumably have to clear at least one significant health-related hurdle before being seriously considered as a possibility to crack the Opening Day roster (with that hurdle being his ability to prove that his playing weight and surgically repaired right knee are not crippling deficiencies in his skill set), the omnipresent danger is that he'll catch fire with the lumber over an inconsequential sample of spring plate appearances and, at the expense of a younger and better outfielder, proceed to either (a) play just well enough to preserve a spot on the active roster, but not good enough to provide meaningful value above and beyond that of what his ousted peer(s) could have supplied, or (b) remain red-hot going into the season, but quickly -- and irreversibly -- bottom out while inexplicably continuing to amass plate appearances because of the organization's disinclination to quickly cut bait.
This latter condition is something I've previously referred to as the "Pedro Astacio Effect"; early in the 2005 season, Astacio parlayed three consecutive strong starts from the outset of April into an extended audition that was only ended in mid-June long after it became blatantly apparent that his early-season dominance was a facade -- and only after he had produced an 8.20 ERA and 1.56 WHIP over a subsequent nine-start span, thus inflicting significant damage in the runs allowed column.
And while one would certainly like to think that this current front-office regime would be incapable of grossly misevaluating its current stable of outfielders relative to Jones and, say, erroneously cutting a considerably promising Cruz for the sake of retaining Jones, there is no such thing as a sure thing in professional baseball. Even the best-run front offices are prone to occasional, yet ill-timed lapses in judgment, and Texas is not excluded from the scope of that long-standing baseball axiom.
That, more than anything else, is what concerns me about this development.
Quick Hits: Jones can opt out of his minor league contract on March 20th ... The Dodgers, who still owe Jones $22.1 million (most of which has been deferred as part of the restructuring of his original two-year deal), will receive half of whatever Jones makes with the Rangers in 2009 ... Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram extolled the virtues of club president Nolan Ryan in his Sunday morning editorial ... The Dallas Observer's latest cover story focuses on the Rangers' rebuilding effort ... Eddie Guardado has opted to refrain from participating in the 2009 World Baseball Classic ... According to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, Guardado's no-trade provision does not enable him to block a trade to any club, but would command a monetary premium -- anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 -- if he were dealt to a Central or Eastern division club in either league; Guardado and his family reside in Tustin, California, and the 38-year-old southpaw understandably doesn't want to pitch too far away from home.