White Sox add depth with free agent Jackson

Outfielder brings right-handed bat, adds speed

March 6th, 2016

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- That "one more move" talked about by White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams arrived Sunday, as the team agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal with free-agent outfielder Austin Jackson.

Third baseman Mike Olt was designated for assignment to make room for Jackson on the 40-man roster.

"We feel that with this move today, we have improved both our depth and our versatility," said Hahn during a Sunday evening conference call to discuss the move. "We provided [White Sox manager] Robin [Ventura] with another opportunity to play matchups, whether it's from an offensive or defensive standpoint, and we think we are a better team tonight than we were this morning."

Jackson, who turned 29 in February, is a .273 career hitter with a .333 on-base percentage and 106 stolen bases in 146 attempts. He also has struck out no fewer than 126 times in any of his six big league seasons.

Over 164 postseason plate appearances, Jackson has a .220 average and .321 on-base percentage. He features a career .990 fielding percentage.

According to Hahn, most if not all of Jackson's on-field time will be spent in center field.

"Obviously a high-quality defensive player out there," Hahn said. "And a lot of his value comes from having him in that spot."

"He's a very good center fielder, covers a lot of ground," said White Sox catcher Alex Avila, who played with Jackson in Detroit. "He's the type of center fielder that you never see him dive because he's getting to [the balls]."

Avila added that Jackson would bring a right-handed hitter with some speed to the White Sox mix. Most importantly, Jackson provides additional outfield versatility needed on the roster.

"I enjoyed playing with him," added Avila of Jackson, who will be in camp Monday but won't be in Cactus League games for another week to 10 days.

Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia currently make up the White Sox outfield from left to right, with Adam LaRoche at designated hitter. Hahn made clear that Garcia, at 24 and with "a world of talent," is not out of the plan because of this addition.

"We still believe he's going to be able to convert on that talent," said Hahn of Garcia. "And we expect him to have opportunity to blossom into the player many people feel he can become."

Eaton has yet to play defensively for the White Sox during Cactus League action. He's working through a throwing program after October nerve decompression surgery on his left shoulder.

LaRoche, meanwhile, left Saturday's game in Surprise with back spasms on his lower-right side. The Sunday word on LaRoche was that he made significant improvement, and neither Eaton nor the White Sox have expressed concern in Eaton not being ready for Opening Day, even if he only plays a week or so in the field in Arizona.

With 836 games in center, Jackson stands as an outstanding backup plan. But he might be more than a backup plan, with Eaton potentially moving to a corner spot and Ventura then having room to mix and match in an outfield/DH rotation. Eaton was asked by a fan on Twitter how he felt about moving from CF and his response was "I want to win."

"We're stronger certainly from a defensive standpoint when we have both Adam and Austin out there in that same outfield," Hahn said. "Adam's expressed a willingness to do whatever we feel makes the most sense on a given day to win a ballgame, whether that's playing center field or DHing or being on one of the corners.

"We'll let the lineups take care of themselves the next several weeks. Ultimately it's going to be about Robin and the coaching staff putting us in the best position to win."

This move, much like the additions of right-handed pitcher Mat Latos and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, stands as low-risk, high-reward versatility and insurance. The front office continues to impress the players with its strengthening moves.

"For players, you should be excited about that because you know you've got a backing there from the top as far as we're committed to win," Avila said. "Now it's our job to be able to go out there and perform and win and get those W's.

"That'll be a long process over the course of the season but as a player, it's exciting for a player when you're on a team that is committing itself to wanting to win. There's nothing more you can ask."

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

Jackson supplied a fair mix of speed, power and on-base ability earlier in his career, but he has declined in the latter two departments since the outset of 2014 (.261/.310/.364 slash line). He can still contribute with his legs, but he will need to find success at the dish in order to earn playing time in a crowded outfield.

Jackson's arrival on the South Side creates an outfield logjam that will likely spill into the designated-hitter spot. Cabrera will remain an everyday player, and Eaton should continue to log a heavy workload. Jackson, Garcia and LaRoche will likely be left to compete for two spots in the starting lineup. Coming off a poor '15 season in which he hit .207, LaRoche is the player most vulnerable to having a major reduction in playing time. Cabrera and Eaton will continue to be mixed-league factors, while Jackson and Garcia will be mostly relevant in deep-mixed formats. LaRoche's value is reduced to AL-only leagues.