Ah, yes. I have returned from the depths of a long fall of school to return for some Hot Stove takes. After spending the last two days grading exams, it is time to return to baseball.
It has been an interesting off season to date in baseball. Patrick Corbin is in DC, Edwin Encarnacion is in Seattle, Carlos Santana is back in Cleveland, Andrew McCutchen is in the city of Brotherly Love, and Harper and Machado are still out on the open market. On the side of my home-town Cleveland Indians, it has been very conflicting for me. Kluber and Bauer are available for trade, monster trades and free agent losses have greatly reduced the firepower on the roster, and the team has shaved about $20 million off of the payroll.
While things seem to be in dire straights for the Tribe, all indications are that the organization is going to reinvest those savings into the roster. While I am sure that more roster moves will be made to cut salary, there is the perfect fit for the Indians roster sitting out on the free agent market.
I have wanted the Indians to acquire Adam Jones since the trade deadline this past season. Now, with so many holes in the outfield, you might say “Hey Brett, anyone is a fit in that outfield.” Fair. The Indians lost Michael Brantley to the Astros. Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer both spent most of last season on the DL. Leonys Martin is still recovering from a scary life-threatening infection. Lonnie Chishenhall has signed with the Pirates. Raji Davis is now with the Mets. For some reason Jason Kipnis is being considered an outfielder now. Yeah, its a mess out there.
I believe that Adam Jones, however, is the perfect match for this currently constructed Indians roster. Here’s why:
1. The Player
The 33 year-old under-performed when compared to other years. While Jones had a respectable .281 averages with 15 homers and 63 RBIs in 145 games, his Wins Above Replacement dropped to a career low of just .2 WAR. His OPS and SLG % dropped to their lowest points since the 2008 campaign. The power drop off marks the first time since 2010 where he did not hit at least 25 home runs. While his numbers have taken a step back, the overall body of work makes him still a very valuable player. Jones has typically been a 2.5-3.5 win player in his career, making him a nice buy low candidate. He is also is just one year removed from hitting 26 home runs. Offensively, the potential is there. His defensive numbers have been slipping over the years. While he does not have the gold glove center field skills he once did, he still grades out as at least an average outfielder. Jones has also played in at least 137 games a year since 2010, making him a very durable option in Cleveland for an outfield that was decimated by injuries last season.
2. Veteran Leadership
Adam Jones has been a player that has always been well liked in the clubhouse. A team player who would sacrifice for the good of the collective group, Jones is someone you would want in your dugout. Ever since the 2013 and 2016 playoff runs for Cleveland, they have lacked that veteran presence that helped them along the way. Jason Giambi and Mike Napoli proved to be valuable voices in the clubhouse, which goes a long way for guiding a team through a long 162 game season in addition to a playoff run. Jones is in search of his World Series ring, so that extra motivation would bode well for a team that has struggled to return to the big dance since their impressive run in 2016.
3. The Contract
For Cleveland, this is where Adam Jones makes the most sense for them. The two most comparable outfielders on the market have already signed: Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley. Both have been 3 WAR players the past few seasons despite injuries for the latter. McCutchen signed a 3-year $50 million deal with Philadelphia while Brantley just secured a 2-year $32 million deal with Houston. With those two signings setting the market and after clearing nearly $20 million in payroll, Cleveland could sign Jones and still have money left over without clearing salary. It would be completely reasonable to see Jones sign a 2-year $24-28 million contract. That would leave Cleveland with anywhere between $6-8 million to reinvest in the 2019 roster to fill other needs. Now, that would not preclude the Indians from looking to dump salary in other places, but Jones would be an impact player that would fit into their budget.
Adam Jones makes too much sense for Cleveland. If they are looking to bring some clarity to the outfield, leadership to the clubhouse, and extend their window of contention, then Jones is the best free agent target for them.