Indians Invite Austin Jackson to Spring Training on Minor League Deal

One of the bigger questions surrounding the Cleveland Indians and their defense of the American League pennant has been their outfield situation.

The front office may have addressed those concerns with a nice insurance policy as the team announced on Wednesday afternoon that it had come to terms on a minor league deal with free agent outfielder Austin Jackson. Terms were not disclosed by the team, but it has been reported that he could make $1.5 million if he makes the Indians roster with another $4 million possible in incentives.

The move provides the Indians with a low risk backup plan in the event that Michael Brantley is not as healthy as hoped or if things go sideways beginning next month when players report to Goodyear, Arizona, for spring training. Last spring, the team saw its entire projected starting outfield disappear before the first pitch of the regular season after injuries to Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall sent both to the disabled list and the performance enhancing drug suspension of Abraham Almonte left the Indians with few internal options to choose from.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The right-handed hitting Jackson, set to turn 30 at the beginning of February, could potentially fill a similar role to that served last season by Rajai Davis, who signed a one-year deal to return to the Oakland Athletics for $6 million (plus incentives) earlier in the month. Jackson was rumored to be linked to Cleveland at points last offseason before the Indians tendered Davis for one year. Jackson’s market did not develop the same and he remained available until the beginning of March, when he signed with the Chicago White Sox on a one-year, $5 million deal with the hopes of parlaying a good season in center field into a better free agent contract this offseason.

Instead, in what was his seventh year in the Majors, Jackson had his shortest season on record for the Sox, appearing in just 54 games while hitting .254 with 12 doubles, two triples, and 18 RBI. He played center field for the club in each of its first 51 games through the end of May before being shelved for six games while dealing with turf toe. He returned for three more games in June but was sidelined again and ultimately underwent surgery on his left knee for a medial meniscus tear. The procedure was expected to sideline him for four-to-six weeks, but he was shut down by the club at the end of August after a slow recovery had prevented him from resuming baseball activities when expected.

The former eighth round pick of the New York Yankees in 2005 made his debut with the Detroit Tigers in 2010 and spent parts of five seasons with the club before he was dealt to the Seattle Mariners at the non-waivers trade deadline in 2014. He was moved again the following season, this time heading from Seattle to the Chicago Cubs at the waiver trade deadline.

Early in his career, especially during his time in the spacious Comerica Park, Jackson was an extra base threat at the plate, twice leading the American League in triples, while showing good speed on the bases and some pop in his bat. He was runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in his debut year. The speed, bat, and the defensive side of his game have all taken a step back in recent seasons.

Now, Jackson will look for a clean bill of health and a good spring in order to latch on to a Major League roster again. He will likely push Tyler Naquin and Almonte primarily in camp, as center field is his position of preference on the field and the area of greatest concern on the Indians roster, especially if Brantley is healthy and back in his spot in left field.

Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images

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