By John Perrotto
If what the Pirates did at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline didn’t send a message to Garrett Jones then nothing could have reached the first baseman/outfielder.
The Pirates traded for Baltimore first baseman Derrek Lee and San Diego right fielder Ryan Ludwick, players who played Jones’ primary positions. Jones seemed certain to be stuck on the bench for the remainder of the season or possibly even released.
However, in less than a month, Jones’ status has changed dramatically. Lee and Ludwick have landed on the disabled list, giving Jones a reprieve and he has made the most of it with an outstanding August.
“I feel like I’m swinging the bat now as well as I did in 2009,” said Jones, who was a major surprise that season as a rookie as he hit 21 home runs in 82 games after spending five seasons at Class AAA.
Jones has hit .305 in 26 games and 110 plate appearances this month with five home runs, 16 RBIs, a .382 on-base percentage and a .589 slugging percentage. It has marked quite a turnaround from July when hit just .183 with two homers, 10 RBIs, a .256 OBP and a .352 slugging percentage in 23 games and 78 plate appearances.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, a former hitting coach, made Jones one of his pet projects yet seemed to be at about the end of his rope with the big left-handed slugger in July. The 6-foot-4 Jones is susceptible to being jammed by inside pitches, especially hard sliders and low fastballs. However, he has solved that problem this month.
“It’s all been a matter of getting to the ball quicker and I’ve done that by shortening my swing,” Jones said. “It’s really helped me get to inside pitches a lot better and made a real difference.”
While Jones has had a good August, he will need to continue to perform well in September because the Pirates have to make a decision on him in the offseason.
He will become eligible for salary arbitration for the first time and the Pirates aren’t likely to pay a seven-figure salary to Jones and instead release him unless they believe he can be a platoon player against right-handed pitchers And despite his hot August, Jones is still hitting just he is still hitting .249 with 15 homers, 54 RBIs, a .333 OBP and a .452 slugging percentage in 123 games and 415 trips to the plate.
The Pirates have some interest in retaining Lee as a free agent on a one-year contract but at something less than the $7 million Baltimore was paying him this season. Conversely, the Pirates seem to have little interest in retaining Ludwick.
The Pirates are intrigued enough by rookie outfielder Alex Presley that they would be willing to go with him as the starting left fielder next season, meaning Jose Tabata would shift to right field and play there regularly.
That would seemingly leave Jones to play first base, a position he is much more comfortable at than right field, perhaps platooning him with right-handed hitting Matt Hague, who is batting hitting .306 with 12 homers and 74 RBIs in136 games for Class AAA Indianapolis.
Jones’s wish is that the Pirates offer him arbitration so can return in 2012.
“I love it here,” Jones said. “This is the organization that gave me a chance to establish myself in the major leagues and I think there are a lot of good things happening here. I definitely want to remain a Pirate.”
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and the major leagues since 1988.