COMMENTARY | Rumors have swirled lately about the fate of Garrett Jones and his role with the team moving forward. The first baseman/right fielder's name has appeared in the rumor mills regarding trades, not the first time the 31-year-old has been mentioned as bait.
It remains to be seen what, if anything, the Pittsburgh Pirates could get in return for Jones, or if the team is even really interested in sending him packing. But one thing seems obvious: The team would lose one of its more productive power hitters if it trades Jones away.
When camp breaks in less than a week and the real games start, Jones will see his fair share of action. He'll platoon at first base with Gaby Sanchez and will also play in place of right fielder Travis Snider on occasion. Many fans would like to see management give Jones a real shot at a starting job. He is set to earn $4.5 million this season.
But Jones hasn't been able to cement a solid starting role for himself as a member of the Pirates over the last four seasons. Is that indicative of management's opinion on Jones' talent level? If so, then why shouldn't they trade a bench player when they could get something in return?
Let's first take a look at what the Pirates will miss if they trade one of their veterans away:
What he brings to the team
Despite the fact that the Pirates have been lacking in the power department in recent years, Jones has been one of the most consistent home run hitters on the roster. He hit 27 bombs last year, good for third most on the team behind Andrew McCutchen (31) and Pedro Alvarez (30). While that total proved to be a career high for Jones, it could have been better. He recorded more than 100 fewer at-bats than McCutchen and 50 fewer at-bats than Alvarez.
He belted 16 home runs in 2011, good for second on the team behind McCutchen's 23 bombs. But, again, McCutchen had 150 more at-bats than Jones that season. In the 2010 season, Jones led the team with 21 home runs and 86 RBIs. Jones averaged 21 home runs during that three-season stretch. It could have been more with more consistent at-bats.
Jones records fewer at-bats for a reason: He is simply abysmal when it comes to hitting left-handed pitchers. He's a career .270 hitter with an .820 OPS against right-handed pitchers. Those numbers plummet to a .215 average and .657 OPS against lefties. It's by far the biggest reason he hasn't secured a starting job on the team.
In addition to his proclivity for power hitting, Jones also brings with him a veteran presence to the team. He's played four complete seasons in Pittsburgh, which, in these days of salary dumps and horrible trades by management, is more time than most get here. It's the same amount of service time logged by both Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker. Like it or not, the team could be losing a veteran leader in the dugout if it decides to trade away one of its most tenured players.
Should the Pirates trade him?
That depends on the ballplayers who'd take his spot. The first is Sanchez, who the Pirates acquired last year in a trade with the Miami Marlins. A former All-Star, Sanchez hit 19 home runs in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Combined, Sanchez hit 38 home runs over those two seasons while Jones hit 37 bombs, although Jones recorded 129 more at-bats over that span.
Sanchez's home run total dropped to a paltry seven last year, but he recorded fewer than 300 at-bats in a tumultuous season. His power numbers could rival those of Jones if he receives more consistent at-bats this year, not likely to happen with the timeshare at first base.
The numbers are further apart when it comes to hitting certain pitchers. It's already been noted how Jones, a lefty, struggles mightily against left-handed pitching. Sanchez, a right-handed hitter, recorded a .250 average against right-handed pitchers and a .279 average against lefties over the span of his career. Ironically, both players sport a career batting average of .259 despite the fact that Jones has more than 400 at-bats than Sanchez.
All in all, the statistics show that Jones and Sanchez are very similar hitters, even if Sanchez is the better fielder and doesn't have a problem hitting lefties.
The other person expected to cut into Jones' playing time is right fielder Travis Snider, another player acquired last year via trade. Snider has never played in more than 82 games in a single season, setting a career high in that respect in 2010. He's a largely unpolished hitter who sports a career .248 batting average in less than a thousand career at-bats. But he also hit 14 home runs that year, the only time he compiled double-digit bombs in a season. He clearly lacks the power possessed by Jones, although he too is a much better fielder.
It would appear to the casual fan that perhaps management would be best suited placing Sanchez at first base and giving Jones the lion's share of starts in right field. Management has previously said it wants to play Jones less at right field this year, but Snider is a younger player at only 25 years old and has experience playing off the bench. The reserve role could also give Snider a little more time to mature in his game while also providing a backup plan if Jones continues to struggle against lefties.
Management has made some pretty horrendous trades in the past several years. And perhaps the most important question involved in this debate is this: What exactly could the team get in return if it trades Jones?
From my perspective, the risk isn't worth the reward.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates for MLB.com on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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- Garrett Jones
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