OK, I've come all the way around on the Jones signing and am in favor of it. There are a few caveats, but overall I think it will improve the team.
The question I kept asking myself was, "does this make the Cubs better than they were last year?" And the answer, it seems to me, is yes. Signing Jones does two things: it replaces Jeromy Burnitz in the outfield, and it prevents Corey Patterson from starting.
Let's start with Burnitz. Looking at their stats, I think it's fair to say that Jones is likely to put up better numbers in '06 than Burnitz would have. Jones and Burnitz had identical OPS last year, and Jacque is five years younger than Jeromy. Plus, he's a better defender, with great outfield coverage. Putting him next to Pierre (hopefully in left field, where his arm prblems will be minimized) will help the rotation, most of whom (Wood, Prior, Williams and Rusch) are fly-ball pitchers.
Plus, he'll make $2M less than Burnitz would have. The money involved in this deal is really pretty small, and that makes me more inclined to look at the signing as an acceptable risk. The money TribCo is giving Jones is not going to preclude Hendry from going out and trading for a player with a big salary -- he still has budget maneuverability, and there are still three months of the off-season left.
On to Corey. More than once, I've seen Jones referred to as "Corey Patterson, but older." This is not a fair comparison. Jones has it all over Patterson offensively:
Patterson, career (589 G): 252/293/414, 70 HR, 111 BB, 552 K
Jones, career (976 G): 279/327/455, 132 HR, 231 BB, 737 K
Breaking that down into rate stats, the differences become even more clear:
Patterson: 21.0 PA/BB, 4/2 PA/K, 33.4 PA/HR
Jones: 16.4 PA/BB, 5.1 PA/K, 28.7 PA/HR
Jones walks and hits homers more often, and strikes out less often, than Patterson. He'll be about $2.5M more expensive than Corey, but that will be more than made up for by not having Patterson's historically bad bat in the lineup on a daily basis.
Jones is better than either of the in-house options. There may have been (and may still be) some available-by-trade options that would have been better, but all of them would have involved giving up prospects. Being able to sign Jones, no world-beater but certainly a solid player, without losing any minor leaguers is a nice plus.
OK. On to the caveats. The main knock on Jones is that he can't hit lefties, and that certainly appears to be the case:
Jones v. LHP, 2005: 201/247/370
Jones v. LHP, 2002-04: 238/295/363
So the Cubs need to have a righty who can play right field against left-handed pitching. They already have a decent candidate on the roster in Jerry Hairston, but if they're looking to go get someone, there are any number of attractive fourth-outfielder lefty-masher types out there. Trans mentioned a number of them the other day, and from his list I like:
* Jeff DaVanon, a switch-hitter with better numbers from the right side
* Craig Monroe, who has good power against lefties and is arb-eligible for the Tigers
* Dustan Mohr, who had an OPS nearly 300 points higher against lefties last year
Let me suggest another name that came over the non-tender wire that you may not be familiar with: Ryan Spilborghs. Spilborghs is a 26-year-old outfielder who has been in the Colorado system. Last year, in a season split between AA and AAA, he did this:
AA Tulsa: 341/435/525
AAA Colorado Springs: 339/405/551
Now those numbers need to be adjusted down a bit, especially the Colorado Springs line, but the fact is that this guy can hit. I'd say he's definitely worth a flier, especially when you consider he'd come cheap and he's coming into the age where many players peak offensively. Unfortunately, Spilborghs re-signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies between when I wrote this and when I posted it, but the Cubs are reportedly in discussions with Colorado centering around Todd Wellemeyer and asking for a guy like Spilborghs as a throw in ought to be doable.
There is, of course, a big potential stumbling block to the idea of platooning Jones, and that is Dusty Baker. As Arizona Phil suggested, Jones might be the ideal Dusty guy: high energy, "good in the clubhouse," aggressive at the plate, over 30. It's entirely possible that Jones will be pencilled into the lineup every day, even when someone like Mark Mulder or Dontrelle Willis is on the mound. If so, then all this is for naught, but I hold out a modicum of blind faith that Dusty will do the right thing. Why, I don't know, but I do know that boundless reserves of blind faith are a prerequisite for being a Cubs fan.
The second issue I have with Jones is his arm. It isn't good. In fact, it may be downright bad, and it's certainly not good enough for him to play right field on a daily basis. The Cubs can (and should) move him to left, but that leaves Matt Murton in right, and his arm is nothing to write home about either. What the Cubs are going to end up with is an outfield full of guys who can go get it, but who have trouble hitting the cut-off man, which is a bummer.
The final problem, and the main thing I dislike about the deal, is that it's for three years. We have to assume a long-term contract is in the works for Juan Pierre, and that means that two of the three outfield spots are going to be locked up through at least 2007, and probably longer. The biggest loser in this scenario is Felix Pie, who finds himself blocked pretty thoroughly. That assumes Matt Murton proves himself deserving of the third spot; if he doesn't, then that's where Pie goes, but I don't want to have to be reduced to hoping one prospect fails so that another could get a shot.
Even with these negatives, though, Jones is a net positive for the Cubs. I know I'm swimming against the current here -- one of the baseball people whose opinion I value the most came out solidly against this deal
, and it's running pretty solidly anti- at BTF
(hey! Look! It's our old pal Scott Lange) -- but after a close look at things I believe signing Jones was, on the balance, a good thing to do.
A number f people have pointed out, here and elsewhere, that the problem with Jones' arm isn't that it's weak, but rather that it can be wildly inaccurate. Thanks for the corrections.