At the trade deadline in 2014, David Price’s name was popping up everywhere as the Rays were on the verge of dealing one of the top pitchers of the decade. Andrew Friedman and his crew were gathered in a glass-enclosed box suite in view of the field, and an impending deal of the Rays ace was no secret.
As the deadline loomed, Friedman gestured to reporters on the Tropicana Field turf and gave them a thumbs up, thus indicating a deal had been reached.
Details were slow to emerge, but in Detroit, Austin Jackson had been called in from the outfield in the middle of an inning and was embraced by his teammates who knew his time with the Tigers had come to an end. However, it was soon found out there had been a three team deal and Jackson would heading to Seattle while the Rays acquired Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin, and their future top prospect, Willy Adames. David Price was sent to Detroit.
Now, that three team deal has a chance to come full circle as Austin jackson is a free agent and the Rays may have a need for another outfielder.
What does he bring to the table?
Jackson’s offensive production has been trending downward ever since the big trade in 2014. This past season he had a wRC+ of 79 and played below replacement level, only appearing in 54 games for the Chicago White Sox. It took him awhile to find a job, waiting until spring training had already begun, but still managed to net a $5M deal from the White Sox in 2016. His value will be below that now.
Over his career, Jackson has always been a little better against right-handed pitchers and in 2016, true to form, he was putrid against left-handed pitchers. But against righties, he had a wRC+ of 100 as he slashed .285/.346/.394 over 154 plate appearances, more than holding his own.
Unfortunately, just over two months into the season, Austin Jackson suffered a torn meniscus that would ultimately cost him the rest of the season.
If they wanted to, the Rays could possibly pick up Jackson cheaply due to his past season’s struggles, and in return receive a replacement level bat. But that’s not why you acquire Austin Jackson.
The real calling card for Jackson is his defense. Should his knee be healthy, Jackson is only one year removed from a 10-point UZR/150 season, which graded neutral by DRS but was otherwise a solid season in center.
A center fielder with a knee injury is not something you want to put your faith in long term, but if the Rays faced a need for a back up, Jackson offers a decent option.
He’ll turn 30 years old in February, so he may still have something left in the tank. During the Winter Meetings, Kevin Cash told the media that he was looking for athletic speedy outfielders who can help out if Kevin Kiermaier should go down again. Is he better than Mikie Mahtook, Jackson has history on his side, but the two of them could wind up putting on a show...in Durham.
Although Jackson has been below average as of late, he still managed to put up 2.3 fWAR in 2015 through , he would fit the mold that Cash is looking for.