Cubs, Jones agree to three-year deal
Expected to start in right field, moving Patterson to bench
CHICAGO -- The Cubs have finally completed their outfield.
The Cubs announced Tuesday they have signed free agent Jacque Jones to a three-year, $16 million deal. Jones is expected to fill the vacant right field spot and join new center fielder Juan Pierre, acquired in a trade from Florida, and rookie left fielder Matt Murton. It would be a completely revamped outfield from the one that started Opening Day 2005 which included Todd Hollandsworth, Corey Patterson and Jeromy Burnitz.
"We like a lot of things about Jacque," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Tuesday in announcing the deal. "He's a very versatile guy. We were very intent on trying to get a left-handed hitter. He's very athletic, has some pop in his bat, an outstanding throwing arm. He's a versatile player and had a lot of upside in him."
Jones, 30, batted .249, hit 23 home runs and 22 doubles and drove in 73 runs in 142 games in 2005 for the Minnesota Twins. He isn't happy about some of the numbers.
"My main deal is to get my batting average back up," Jones said. "I haven't felt good about my average since '03. Two years, it went down. When I'm home, I'm sick about it, and can't stand it. I know I'm better than a .250 hitter. When I get my average back up, I think all those other things will come."
Such as home runs. Jones, Pierre and Murton don't appear to be much of a power threat.
"If you're a good hitter, I'm not worried about everybody being able to hit 40 home runs," Hendry said. "I think Jacque Jones is capable of hitting 25 plus home runs. Aramis [Ramirez], with a healthy year under his belt, can hit more than 30. [Michael] Barrett has a little pop as a catcher. I think we're more versatile, more athletic, I think we'll run a lot better and we'll play better defense."
With the addition of Pierre and Jones, the Cubs should be able to score more runs and not worry about hitting balls out of the ballpark. The team did rank second in the National League in home runs in 2005, slugging 194, but finished ninth in runs scored.
The left-handed Jones is a career .279 hitter and has played solely for the Twins. He has recorded 22 or more doubles every season, and is a career .281 hitter with runners in scoring position. He has played all three outfield spots, starting mostly in left. Jones did hit .300 in back-to-back seasons in 2002 and '03. What's been the reason for his recent drop off?
"It's just a combination of trying to do too much and putting too much pressure on myself to have an out of this world year," Jones said. "Hopefully, that's behind me and I can relax and go out and have fun again."
Hendry said his scouts felt Jones tried to carry the Twins, who had to deal with injuries to key players such as Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart.
"[Jones'] batting average numbers were down but I think his overall production will rise," Hendry said. "He hits a lot of balls into the gap."
Jones also is patient at the plate, drawing a career-high 51 walks in 2005.
"I bring a lot of energy, I'm excited to play every day," Jones said. "Hopefully, the other guys can feed off that energy."
He had offers from other teams but chose the Cubs. Why?
"I just thought they had a good team. They had a lot of injuries last year," Jones said. "I always had a fondness in my heart for Dusty [Baker, the Cubs manager]. I told my parents that before I got out of the game, I wanted to play for him."
Minnesota did offer Jones arbitration, and by doing so will receive a compensation draft pick from the Cubs.
Jones is the fourth free agent signed by the Cubs this offseason. So far, Hendry has added relievers Scott Eyre and Bob Howry, and outfielder John Mabry, and traded for Pierre. Hendry said he likes the balance now in the Cubs' projected lineup.
Burnitz patrolled right field for the Cubs in 2005, the first year without Sammy Sosa since 1992. Burnitz batted .258 with 24 homers and 87 RBIs in 160 games and the team decided not to pick up his 2006 option of $7 million.
The next issue for Hendry to deal with is what to do with Patterson, who was being considered for right field. Patterson hit a disappointing .215 in 2005, and was demoted to Triple-A Iowa at the All-Star break to try to get back on track. A No. 1 draft pick in 1998, Patterson is arbitration eligible, and the Cubs tendered him a contract on Tuesday.
"I have a lot of fondness in my heart for Corey Patterson and I feel badly for what happened last year," Hendry said. "Not only did he fail, but he took it hard. I'll try to do what's best for the Cubs first, and what's best for Corey second. When [other teams] see he's tendered a contract, there will be even more interest in Corey."
Any other moves on the horizon for the Cubs?
"We're a long way from Opening Day," Hendry said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.