For most of the offseason, Denard Span was viewed as a great free-agent option for the Baltimore Orioles. He’s off the table now, having agreed to a deal with the San Francisco Giants. Span got three years with the Giants, something the Orioles were likely unwilling to even consider given the fact that Span, who relies on his speed, suffered through abdominal and hip injuries last season. There are other options on the table, however, and the Orioles still have question marks in their outfield.
Allow me to introduce you to Austin Jackson.
Jackson, a .273/.333/.399 hitter in six seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago Cubs, is a free agent coming off a relatively down year. He seems the perfect candidate for a short-term deal with an eye on re-establishing value to attack free agency next winter. Jackson compares very favorably to fellow free agents Dexter Fowler and Gerardo Parra, but should be able to be had at a lesser price.
Jackson’s career seemed to be trending upward with the Detroit Tigers before he was included in the David Price trade in 2014. At the time of the trade, Jackson was working on a third straight season with a slugging percentage north of .400. Then, he went to Seattle and suffered miserably, hitting .229 in his first 56 games as a Mariner.
So, what the heck happened to Jackson when he got traded to Seattle? Judging by the numbers, it’s quite clear what happened to him with the Mariners. Someone got in his ear and said, “Hey Austin. We play in a really big park here in Seattle. You’re fast. Why don’t you try and hit the ball on the ground a little bit more often?” Unfortunately for Mr. Jackson, it appears he agreed to that cockamamie idea.
In Jackson’s last three years with the Tigers, his GB/FB ratio hovered around 0.75. He was lifting and elevating the ball and hitting triples and home runs. In his final year with the Tigers, Jackson’s GB/FB ration was 0.61 in 100 games. With the Mariners, that number spiked to 1.01 — a 66% increase. That type of increase does not happen without making drastic changes to a player’s swing.
Whatever happened to Austin Jackson’s swing in Seattle can be repaired. He will be only 29 next season, and has 20-20 potential in the right park, but needs a one-year deal to show it. Camden Yards could be the right place to accomplish that. The Orioles are still unsettled in right field, and who knows if they are willing to spend their Chris Davis money on Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. Peter Angelos seems against such logical action. No one really seems willing to offer Davis anything close to the $150-plus million contract put on the table by the Orioles. It seems likely the Orioles and Davis will work out a deal, leaving a hole in right field that could be filled by Jackson.
There are some flaws to Jackson’s game. He does not walk and does strikeout rather frequently, but a one-year deal is not a huge risk for the Orioles to take on. The Orioles still need a competent leadoff hitter so that Manny Machado‘s value can be maximized in a run-producing slot. For one year and $10 million, Austin Jackson can be that leadoff hitter, providing a nice injection of speed into a station-to-station team. Austin Jackson and the Orioles could have a nice little, mutually beneficial one-year marriage.