For the last couple months, it was popular to wonder aloud – either on Twitter or to a room full of strangers – how Adam Jones remained unsigned. Nobody thinks peak Jones will return, but it does seem like he should perform like a one-win player. That has value, especially when it can be expected to cost about $3MM.
Everybody agreed he belonged on a roster. Selecting an actual fit was where we disagreed. For much of the offseason, I touted him as an obvious solution for the Indians. They’re the only contending club who could have actually improved with Jones. Rebuilding teams tend to shy away from veterans. Even so, he’s a proven clubhouse leader so he made sense for weaker clubs too.
Cleveland fans said no, they preferred Greg Allen and Jordan Luplow and Tyler Naquin. The refrain went something like this: if Jones is on the roster, then the Indians can’t dig through the dumpster for a breakout player. Trust me, you’re trying too hard if Jordan friggin Luplow is the primary reason cited for not signing a free agent.
A player of Jones’ ilk doesn’t block talent. Rather, he takes the pressure off emerging players by allowing them to gain confidence in a part-time role. There’s a common misconception that hitters are at their best when they play every single day. Nonsense. A player is always at their best when rested.
While hitters might tell you they need to play everyday to stay sharp – you can find dozens of sound bites supporting this view – they have a vested interest to lie. My own personal experience suggests a game every three or four days is more than sufficient to maintain timing. Sure, that’s an anecdote taken from (very) amateur ball. Let’s say it’s every other day for a professional.
The point is this: Jones’ presence on the roster wouldn’t have prevented the Indians from using Allen, Luplow, Jake Bauers, and others enough to find emergent talent. The Dodgers have teased out several breakouts in recent years using this part-time approach. When they show signs of a breakout, they begin to play more frequently. Before we know it, they’re everyday guys.
The Diamondbacks recently signed Jones and claim he’ll play center field (where he’s admittedly woefully inadequate). The original plan was to play Wilmer Flores at second base and Ketel Marte in center field. Fantasy owners in particular loved this plan. Marte would gain triple eligibility while Flores could finally have a full season in the field. With Jones in tow, there’s an awful lot of whining about Flores getting blocked.
Here’s the thing though. From the Diamondbacks perspective, Flores and Jones are both one-win players. Flores obviously has more potential future value, although I think that angle can get conflated. The chances for a Flores breakout probably aren’t much higher than those of a dead cat bounce from Jones. More importantly, Flores is still going to get something like 450 plate appearances. If he improves as a hitter, he’ll soon begin to play more often. If not, then he was miscast as a must-start second baseman.
While I know fantasy owners had hoped for bargain production from Flores, that has nothing to do with the Diamondbacks decision making. Even though he’s questionable as a center fielder, adding Jones gives the club more depth in the middle and corner infield by pushing Marte and Flores into flexible utility roles. That will be helpful over the course of a 162 game season.
To this point, we’ve talked about real teams. Fantasy owners often deal with a very similar conundrum. In the late rounds, an owner might select a Flores over a steady performer like Ben Zobrist because the former has a whiff of potential. There are times when this can be the right play, such as if the owner has a short fall in home runs and needs to hit the lottery in that one particular category. In that case, choosing Flores could be the right play.
Again, this is a conflated scenario. The “I need home runs” analysis implies that the other four categories are all taken care of. In reality, it’s likely you’ll also need across the board stats. Maybe you have one or two very strong categories you can ignore. Most of the time, even if you need home runs, the run production and average of Zobrist will be worth more points to your team.
Another common mistake I see is teams purposely leaving roles open for highly volatile picks like Luke Voit. Although I’m rather bullish on Voit if he manages to win the Yankees first base job, we have to recognize that he might lose the spring battle. And he might show up looking like the 2017 version and later lose the job. It’s fine to bet on Voit. It’s also fine to nab a cheap Ryan Zimmerman for depth purposes. If Voit does what you hope, you aren’t blocking him. If he flops, you’ve got a solid mid-lineup veteran replacement.
The Diamondbacks signing of Jones has a lot to do with the utility of Marte and Flores. You can build fantasy rosters around utility too. This used to be something I specifically concentrated to achieve. Now, the preponderance of multi-eligible players means we don’t have to go out of our way to build flexible rosters. Even though it’s easier now, we should still keep half an eye on building depth. If you have Matt Carpenter capable of lining up at first, second, or third base, then an injury to another player at those positions means you can target the best infielder available rather than the best first baseman only.
You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam