Posted on January 23, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Austin Jackson

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The San Francisco Giants appear to have completed the overhaul of their outfield. Monday night, the Giants agreed to sign Austin Jackson to a two-year contract worth $6 million. With incentives, Jackson can make up to $8.5 million over the next two seasons. The move comes on the heels of the Giants acquiring Andrew McCutchen in a trade with the Pirates.

“We are excited to have Austin join the Giants”, said Giants GM Bobby Evans. “He is a talented and versatile player who will strengthen our roster and provide additional depth at all three outfield positions.”

On the surface, it’s surprising that Jackson landed a multi-year deal, especially with a team in which he’ll likely be an everyday player. To be fair, the 31-year old Jackson is coming off one of the best seasons of his career with the Cleveland Indians. In 2017, he hit .318 with an OPS of .869. However, he did so as a part-time player, playing in only 85 games.

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The Giants were also closely linked with free agent Lorenzo Cain. On paper, Cain would have been a better option than Jackson. From San Francisco’s perspective, Jackson was a more cost-efficient option. Nevertheless, the Giants chose to sign Jackson while Cain was still available.

While Jackson is appealing because of his versatility, he will likely be San Francisco’s primary center fielder. The Giants traded away Denard Span earlier this offseason in the trade that gave them Evan Longoria, leaving them an opening in center field. McCutchen could have also filled that role. However, the Giants were quick to say that McCutchen would be slotted in right field, leaving them still in need of a center fielder.

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence will be shifted from right field to left field. Earlier this offseason, there were reports that the Giants were looking to trade Pence to help relieve themselves of his $18.5 million salary in 2018. However, that was always going to be a tough task for the Giants to accomplish. Had the Giants been able to free themselves of that money, they may have been able to afford to sign Cain. Instead, they keep Pence and signed Jackson at an affordable rate to be their center fielder.

With Pence, Jackson, and McCutchen in line to be San Francisco’s primary outfielders, the Giants also have Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson, and Gorkys Hernandez in reserve. None were particularly productive last year, which is why the Giants were anxious to overhaul their outfield. However, they will provide San Francisco with adequate depth in their outfield.

The Giants also have prospects Austin Slater and Steven Duggar waiting in the wings. Duggar, in particular, could be the team’s center fielder of the future. If he proves ready for the majors at some point in 2018, he could platoon with Jackson in center field. Of course, both Pence and McCutchen are free agents next winter, potentially opening spots for both Slater and Duggar.

Ultimately, the signing of Jackson is a little puzzling. Clearly, the Giants are hoping to compete in 2018, but Jackson was not the top center fielder available. There’s no guarantee he’ll be able to repeat last year’s production while holding down an everyday job. Nevertheless, he does provide good upside for the price the Giants are paying for him. In that sense, Jackson is a good addition to complete San Francisco’s overhaul of their outfield.

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