One of the biggest topic of the 2013-2014 offseason was the possibility of signing 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner, Max Scherzer, to a contract extension. The talk really picked up after the Dodgers were able to ink their Cy Young winner to a massive 7 year, $215M contract running through 2020. Both sides have been saying all the right things as to trying to get a deal worked out, but are the Tigers really prioritizing the right player on the roster to be handing a large contract to?
Since being acquired as part of a 2009 three-team blockbuster that sent fan favorite, Curtis Granderson, to the Yankees. The Tigers also acquired Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, and Daniel Schlereth. Austin Jackson was immediately penciled in as the new leadoff hitter and starting centerfielder for Detroit and made his major league debut on Opening Day of 2010. His impact was quickly felt as he posted a .293/.345/.400 in a 3.9 win rookie season that saw him finish second behind Neftali Feliz for the 2010 Rookie of the Year Award. After a tough sophomore season that saw his K% hit 27.1%, Jackson worked with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on getting rid of his high leg kick. With less moving parts in his swing, the Denton, Texas native was able to lower his strikeouts by 5.4%. This resulted in a career high 5.2 WAR and his first career .300 season. In 2013, he saw a bit of a regression that could have resulted from a BABIP 28 points below his career average. Nevertheless, he still had a solid season at the plate while playing very good defense, regardless of what his -3.8 UZR says.
Jackson is set to hit free agency after the 2015 season. Yet, not much has been made of extending him. We have heard nothing from either the Tigers or Austin Jackson. Being a client of Scott Boras, an extension does seem to be an uphill battle, but is it not the time to try, or at the very least, show some interest? Jackson has arguably been one of the most underrated players in baseball the last few years. His high strikeout rate and poor playoff performance in the leadoff spot last year seemed to overshadow just how good of a player he is. Jackson is a realistic threat to bat .290, hit 20 home runs, and all while covering a ton of ground in the spacious centerfield that Comerica Park possesses. Isn't that the kind of player you would like to keep around for a while? Even more when you find out that he will only be 27 years old throughout the 2014 season?
What would a contract look like?
There is one star player that actually matches up pretty well with Austin Jackson's career numbers. That would be Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles. Both players play good defense in center, both players have above average speed and are capable of stealing 20 bases, and both players strike out at about a 20% rate. The only key differences is that Jackson has a higher walk rate and Jones hits for more home run power, which could be partially attributed to the fact that he plays in hitter friendly Camden Yards.
Prior to the 2013 season, Adam Jones signed a 6 year, $85.5M extension that will run through 2018. That would be an average annual value of $14.75M. That seems fair when you figure that you traditionally pay $5M per win per year. Given that Jackson has averaged 3.65 WAR in his 4 years in the big leagues, this would be very close to what he would be worth on the open market. It may be difficult to get around the fact that Scott Boras has a reputation for taking players all the way to free agency, but I think we need to ask ourselves, is Max Scherzer the player that we should be worried about losing or is it Austin Jackson?