Heading in to the 2012 season, if you would have asked me to guess whether Garrett Jones would have returned to the Pirates in 2013, I probably would have said no. The first baseman is making $2.25 M this year, and because arbitration heavily favors home runs, he could very easily double that salary next year in his second of four arbitration years.
Jones looked like nothing more than a platoon option at the start of the year. He had a big breakout performnce in 2009, hitting for a .293 average, a .938 OPS, and hitting 21 homers in 314 at-bats.
The 2010 season wasn’t as good. Jones hit for a .247 average in 592 at-bats, getting every day playing time. He had 21 homers in that span, and a .720 OPS.
In 2011, Jones was platooned at the start of the year, but eventually got back to every day playing time. On the year he hit for a .243 average and a .753 OPS in 423 at-bats, with 16 homers.
So far this season, Jones has a .283/.316/.542 line with 19 homers in 321 at-bats. He entered the year as a platoon option, and that hasn’t changed. Against left-handers this year, Jones has a .190/.205/.357 line in 42 at-bats. The difference is that he’s destroying right handers. Jones has a .297/.332/.570 line against right handed pitchers in 279 at-bats.
Jones has the third best power numbers on the team this year, with his 19 homers trailing Pedro Alvarez (22), and Andrew McCutchen (24). If you consider that Jones has about 100 fewer at-bats than McCutchen, and about 50 fewer at-bats than Alvarez, those power numbers become more impressive.
He might be a platoon guy, but Jones has earned his way back on to the roster next year, even if the price is in the $4.5 M range. A left-handed hitter in a platoon is going to see the bulk of the playing time, likely around two-thirds of all games. When Jones doesn’t start, he provides the Pirates with a good left-handed power bat off the bench in the later innings.
I don’t think the Pirates can go with a guy like Jones for the long haul. He’ll continue to get paid for his home run totals, but there’s only so much you can pay a part-time starter. For the 2013 season, the Pirates will have a hole at first base, which means a Jones/Gaby Sanchez platoon could be a good stopgap, at least until someone like Matt Curry or Alex Dickerson arrive from the minors.
For now, Garrett Jones is making a huge impact on this team. The Pirates have an MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen. They have a Cy Young candidate in A.J. Burnett. They have a power hitting third baseman, Pedro Alvarez. But if a team wants to contend, they need role players, and that’s exactly what Jones is doing. He’s not a star. He’s not even a full-time starter. But he’s adding a lot of value with his bat in the lineup, to the point where the Pirates aren’t only relying on McCutchen and Alvarez for their offensive output.
Links and Notes
**The Pirates beat the Dodgers 10-6.
**Pirates Notebook: Jones Breaks Out Big Bat; Burnett Gets Gritty.
**Prospect Watch: Cole Strikes Out Nine; Moroff and Ross Hit First Homers.