At the cusp of the deadline for newly acquired players to be eligible to participate in the post-season, the Mariners traded Austin Jackson. Jackson was the center piece, and center fielder, that the Mariners received in last season's David Price mega-deal. Just thirteen months later, in what is a post-Jack Z era, they Mariners have shipped him off to the Cubs for a player to be named later and a $211,100 international signing slot. Or, perhaps more simply put, two players to be named later.
After a disappointing offensive 2014 season at the plate, Austin Jackson has rebounded to become a nearly average offensive player (97 wRC+) with equally below average power. His walk rate has eroded over the past three years to just five percent and the nineteen percent difference between strikeout and walk rate puts him in the bottom fifteen percent of regular batters (minimum 300 PA).
While Jackson has been close to average at the plate, he's been well below that on the base paths. In Seattle, he was among the lead leaders in stolen base attempts by opportunity, stealing 15 percent of the time, nearly three time league average (5.5 percent ), and reached successfully just 15 times out of 24 (63 percent ). Only Carlos Gomez, now of the Houston Astros, has stolen bases at a worse clip (62 percent ) than Jackson, while stealing as frequently. Look for him to attempt fewer steals per opportunity over the balance of the season.
Not only has Jackson seemingly lost speed on the base paths, his defensive ratings in center field have slipped considerably since he broke into the league. His DRS (-3) and UZR (-2.0) suggest that since the beginning of last season Jackson is a slightly below average defensive center fielder. However, in the Cubs current state, it qualifies him to start in center field, as Dexter Fowler has preformed considerably worse than AJax by both measures (-29 DRS; -21.0 UZR) over the same period.
Fowler seems destined to to play more in right field foul with Jorge Soler sidelined, likely until late September. His injury made the deal for another outfielder one of necessity rather than one of luxury. Chris Denorfia certainly doesn't have the chops at the plate to justify his slightly above-average defense. Across just over 200 plate appearances this season, he's posted wRC+ of just 75 despite a .348 BABIP. Think of him as Dustin Ackley or Dom Brown, but without the pedigree or ensuing disappointment.
While Jackson stabilizes the Soler-less Cubs both in the outfield and batter's box as they try to stave off the Giants and Nationals, he too benefits as he enters free agency for the first time. He will do so unencumbered by a qualifying offer -- as he is no longer eligible to receive one -- or the stigma that could come from not receiving one. A strong stretch drive from Jackson could mean a playoff berth and a heftier multi-year contract. That's a win-win situation, for both the Cubs and for Jackson.
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