CLEVELAND -- Given some of the questions surrounding the Indians' outfield for the upcoming season, having some contingency plans in place is important for the club. Cleveland added some insurance on Wednesday by signing free-agent outfielder Austin Jackson.The Indians are bringing Jackson into the fold on a Minor League deal
CLEVELAND -- Given some of the questions surrounding the Indians' outfield for the upcoming season, having some contingency plans in place is important for the club. Cleveland added some insurance on Wednesday by signing free-agent outfielder Austin Jackson.
The Indians are bringing Jackson into the fold on a Minor League deal that includes an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league team, putting him firmly in the mix for an Opening Day job with the reigning American League champions.
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According to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman, Jackson will have a base salary of $1.5 million, plus another $4 million available through incentives, if he makes the Major League roster. The contract also includes an opt-out clause for the end of Spring Training.
In Jackson, Cleveland would have a right-handed-hitting outfielder capable of playing center field, along with the corners, if needed. That is a similar role held last season by veteran Rajai Davis, who signed with the A's as a free agent this offseason. If he were to make the team, Jackson could help balance out a lefty-leaning outfield for manager Terry Francona, who often relied upon platoon situations at all three spots last year.
As things stand, the Indians project to have three lefty-swinging outfielders (left fielder Michael Brantley, center fielder Tyler Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall). Naquin and Chisenhall typically play against right-handed pitching, while corner outfielder Brandon Guyer (a right-handed batter) is worked in against lefties. The Tribe also has switch-hitting Abraham Almonte as a backup for all three positions.
Cleveland is also in need of insurance in case Brantley's comeback from right biceps surgery hits any snags this spring.
Last season, Jackson was limited to 54 games with the White Sox due to a left knee injury that necessitated season-ending surgery in June. Jackson, who will turn 30 on Feb. 1, hit .254 with a .661 OPS in his abbreviated tour with Chicago. Over seven years in the Majors, the outfielder has hit .272/.332/.396 between stops with the Tigers, Mariners, Cubs and White Sox.
During his last full season in 2015, Jackson posted a .281 average and .770 OPS against left-handed pitching, compared to a .259 showing (.657 OPS) off righties. Given the makeup of Cleveland's roster, he would likely be used primarily against southpaws, either in left field or in center on days Naquin is not in the lineup. Jackson's career production has been more even, with a .734 OPS off righties and a .716 OPS against lefties.
Defensively, Jackson posted minus-5 Defensive Runs Saved with a minus-12.8 UZR/150 last season, though those figures may have been impacted by the knee issue. For his career, Jackson has turned in 41 DRS across 7,580 innings in center field with a 1.1 UZR/150 at that position. Jackson has played 109 2/3 innings between left and right field, providing roughly league-average defensive production in the corners.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.