SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants had a glaring hole in center field after the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen and his subsequent move to right field, so it stood out when a press release to announce the signing of Austin Jackson included the words “depth at all three outfield positions.”
A day later, team officials made it clear that Jackson is not necessarily the final piece of the puzzle, or even the solution in center field. After mentioning several times that it was a strategic signing, vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean gave a blunt answer when asked about Jackson’s role.
“Did we get him to be our everyday center fielder? Probably not,” Sabean said. “I don’t know that in his recent history he’s been able to go out there in that fashion.”
Jackson played just 54 games in 2016 and 85 last season for the Indians. The Giants see him as a complementary piece, someone who can handle plenty of time in center, spell McCutchen and Hunter Pence in the corners, and give them a dangerous bat against left-handed pitchers.
It seemed that was a role that would mostly go to Austin Slater, but the Giants gave Jackson a two-year deal for $6 million, basically wiping out the rest of their room under the tax line. They will not be significantly involved in free agency from this point on, which leaves two options for one more outfield addition.
Steven Duggar was mentioned over and over again on Tuesday’s conference call, and the Giants will give the prospect a chance to win a significant role this spring. It’s possible that Duggar and Jackson could form a platoon, but before committing to that, the front office will look to add a third offseason addition via trade.
“There are still some fronts that we are pursuing with minimum-service type of players, which are low in salary,” Sabean said. “We’ll flush out other possibilities.”
Evans has spent months laying the groundwork for multiple deals, and the front office remains confident that one more outfielder can be added via trade. The player would have to be young and pre-arbitration to line up financially with the rest of the offseason work.
If that doesn’t end up happening, Bruce Bochy won’t be too upset. Bochy said he couldn’t be happier with the work Sabean and Evans have done to overhaul an outfield that was unfathomably bad on both sides of the ball last season. If Jackson is the final piece, Bochy is ready to make it work.
“Right now, as we start the season, I think you’ll see Austin out in center field as much as anything,” he said. “We’ll see where we’re at when we break camp, but that’s a need for us out there in center. As we break camp, we’ll know where we’re at with other options, Gorkys (Hernandez) or Duggar. But center field is where (Jackson) will spend most of his time this spring.”