Is Andruw the Answer?

There’s been much talk all over Los Angeles and the baseball world about the Dodgers’ recent signing of former Braves superstar, Andruw Jones. Much has been made of the contract that he signed ($36.2 mil over 2 years) which makes him the 5th highest paid player in baseball (per year). Of course, the total number of years makes this a relatively small deal if you compare it to a guy like Alex Rodriguez, who will get paid nearly 10x as much money over 10 years. Even so, the deal has some people scratching their heads because of the terrible season Jones had last year. It was literally the worst of his career by far. He hit an abysmal .222 with a near career low 26 HRs (he hit 18 in his 1st full season in the league). Andruw has never been much of an OBP guy but has always been a run producer. Even with the low offensive output last year, Jones still managed to knock in 94 RBIs. Both power numbers (HRs and RBIs) actually would’ve made Jones the Dodgers’ most productive hitter last year, which demonstrates just how badly we needed him. Some say that he is beginning to decline, which of course, every player does but Jones is only 30 years old which isn’t very old at all for a position player. After all, it’s not like he’s a pitcher. The question is, was this the right move for the Dodgers? My answer is, yes, without a doubt. The Dodgers obviously had a glaring hole in the middle of their lineup last year and as I previously stated, Jones’ power numbers still would’ve been better than anything the Dodgers’ put up last year, even in the worst year of his career. He was the best power hitter available in a weak free agent market, it’s that simple.
In my opinion, Andruw still has several prime years left. Let us not forget that the year before last, Jones tore up the league when he hit .262 with 42 HRs and 129 RBIs. The year before that he hit .263 with 51 HRs and 128 RBIs. In any case that is an ELITE power hitter which is exactly what the Dodgers were in the market for. Face it, the free agent market was rather pitiful this offseason. The only position with options was CF; Torii Hunter was available, Aaron Rowand is still out there, a Japanese stud, Fukodome, entered the market, etc… So was Jones really the best option? My answer is STILL yes, without a doubt. Guys like Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand have never been true power hitters and have been pretty average offensively throughout their careers. They are both coming of career years at the plate and if you look at their stats as a whole, it’s unlikely that they will be able to repeat those numbers anytime soon. The opposite is true for AJ. Last season was so unlike any season he’s had, that it’s hard to believe that he won’t be back to his old self this year. Last year’s numbers look like a blip on the screen when taken into context. The length of his contract should also be factored into the bigger picture. He’s only signed for two years so if he does happen to bomb, it won’t tie up the Dodgers payroll for years to come. If we had signed Torii Hunter at age 32 for five years, then we would’ve been paying a 37 year old CF $18 mil per year during the back end of the deal. That’s the kind of contract that can ruin a team.

However, there were some troubling signs last season. It seemed like every time I turned on SportsCenter over the summer they were showing highlights (or lowlights) of AJ whiffing 4 times in a game. He did that several times and if I remember correctly he even struck out 5 times in one game. That is worrisome to say the least. On the other hand, it wasn’t widely reported that Jones was dealing with a hyper-extended elbow throughout the entire season. It clearly affected his swing but he played thru it anyway since he was in a contract year. That’s a pretty easy explanation of what was causing the problems last year and if that’s the case, he should be good to go this season and back to his old self.

No matter which way you look at it, the Dodgers desperately needed a power hitter that could clear the bases with one swing of the bat. I very much believe in the youth movement, guys like Matt Kemp and James Loney could very well hit over 25 HRs this season but that is still a big MAYBE. If Andruw plays a full season, injury-free, it’s a virtual lock that he’ll hit well over 25 dingers and that’s what we need at this point…a sure thing. Signing Jones was a far better idea than say trading for a guy like Miguel Cabrera. The Dodgers are in a bit of a bind with their young players right now. They are no longer prospects and are now big league assets. We depend on them as parts of our everyday lineup. If we were to trade multiple young players for a big bat, we would’ve created more holes than we would’ve filled. You don’t have to give up anything to sign Jones, not even compensation draft picks because the Braves didn’t offer him arbitration. The move also frees up the Dodgers to trade a guy like Juan Pierre or Andre Ethier for pitching help or a 3B. It should also be noted that Jones is a Gold Glove-caliber CF and will be a major upgrade over Juan Pierre defensively. He can make all the catches but more importantly he can make all the throws. Opposing teams won’t be looking at extra base hits every time they hit it to center. He will save a lot of runs compared to a guy like Pierre which by itself would be worth taking a chance on, not to mention the massive offensive production. Adding Jones to the lineup is a major coup for the Dodgers and should quickly pay off. The Dodgers lineup may actually intimidate opposing pitchers this season:
1. Rafael Furcal – SS
2. Russell Martin – C
3. Matt Kemp – RF
4. Andruw Jones – CF
5. James Loney – 1B
6. Jeff Kent – 2B
7. Andy LaRoche – 3B
8. Juan Pierre – LF
Every single player in that lineup is capable of hitting at least 20 HRs each (except for the two bookends, Furcal and Pierre). If you add in the continuing development of players like Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin and Andy LaRoche, this could actually be one of the more potent lineups in the National League.