Red Sox Rumors: Outfielder Austin Jackson a free agent target

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: Austin Jackson #16 of the San Francisco Giants at bat against the Washington Nationals during the ninth inning at Nationals Park on June 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: Austin Jackson #16 of the San Francisco Giants at bat against the Washington Nationals during the ninth inning at Nationals Park on June 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have reportedly shown interest in free agent outfielder Austin Jackson. How would the veteran fit on this team?

An outfielder doesn’t appear to be among the chief concerns the Boston Red Sox need to address heading toward the MLB trade deadline. That doesn’t mean they won’t kick the tires on some potential options. Especially if they can find one who won’t cost them any assets.

FanCred’s Jon Heyman reports that the Red Sox have shown interest in free agent outfielder Austin Jackson.

The 31-year old veteran began the year with the San Francisco Giants, who shipped him to the Texas Rangers earlier this month as part of a salary dump. Texas released him soon after, making Jackson available for a prorated portion of the league minimum.

Interest coming from the Giants is puzzling considering they gave up on him once already this season. Perhaps he’s more appealing at a dirt cheap price rather than being responsible for his remaining contract this year and another $3 million next year. The Rangers are now on the hook for that money.

A fit in Boston?

Boston’s interest is also curious. Their outfield is already loaded with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley. They have depth with Brock Holt, Blake Swihart and Steve Pearce all capable of filling a corner outfield spot. J.D. Martinez also gets playing time in the outfield when he isn’t serving as the DH.

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While none of those backups are ideally suited for center field, Betts and Benny are both capable of shifting over when necessary. That makes finding a backup center fielder a luxury rather than a need.

It’s also fair to question if Jackson should still be considered a center field option. Once considered a strong defensive player, Jackson has been below average in the field the last few years. He’s been terrible this year, producing -10 defensive runs saved in only 38 games as a center fielder.

Jackson isn’t getting it done at the plate this year either. He’s hitting .242/.309/.295 in 165 plate appearances.

Adding another outfielder in Jackson would mean another player from the roster would get squeezed. Is signing Jackson worthwhile if it means releasing Swihart? They could send Tzu-Wei Lin back to Pawtucket but that would leave the Red Sox dangerously thin on infield options.

He’s no JBJ

Jackson would make some sense if Bradley were dealt for bullpen help. They would need a center fielder if that happens. Moving Betts or Benintendi to center on a regular basis isn’t ideal, which would leave them relying heavily on Jackson.

That’s fine if he were playing at the level he was at last year. Jackson hit .318 with a .869 OPS and was worth 1.9 WAR in 85 games for the Cleveland Indians. However, we’ve seen little from him to suggest he’ll do that. It can’t be a good sign that Texas gave up on him before he played a single game with them. Jackson has been a below replacement level player in two of the last three seasons. He hasn’t been worth 2.0+ WAR since 2013. He’s a backup, not a starter on a team with championship aspirations.

Bradley sputtered through a prolonged slump this season but he’s starting to heat up. The notoriously streaky hitter is batting .265 with a .797 OPS in July. He’s 10-for-32 (.312) over his last nine games. Those numbers are approximately Jackson’s ceiling, while Bradley provides much better defense. Upgrading the bullpen is important but trading Bradley isn’t the way to do it if Jackson is their center field solution.

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Jackson would be a worthwhile low-risk option if he were willing to sign a minor league deal with the potential to be called up later this season. He could be a useful depth option who can play all three outfield positions. If he insists on waiting for a big league contract then the Red Sox should pass. There’s no room for him on the roster at the moment and he’s not a suitable replacement for Bradley in the event he’s traded.