I have a good friend who has referred to Jacque Jones as "Frenchy" for his entire baseball career. That's one of the reasons I smiled when I heard the Twins signed Jones yesterday to a minor-league contract. But it's not the only reason.
For starters, I just like bringing back one of those Twins from the Tom Kelly era. And I like Jones considerably more than, say, Rich Becker.
Another reason is that way back in the day I used to harp annually about how Jones should be shopped around as a center fielder. Remember, he was a center fielder in his first few years with the Twins. He wasn't bumped because he couldn't play there, or because his defense was poor. He was bumped because the Twins had Torii Hunter.
In my mind, the Twins consistently failed to leverage Jones' value as a center fielder in a trade. He was used as an average corner outfielder, but would have been well-above average offensively as a center fielder. That should have had real value for some other aggressive front office. Jones could have been Franklin Gutierrez, without the extreme defensive chops.
It sounds like the Twins will be seeing if he can still play there, judging by the timing of the announcement. Yesterday we also found out that the Twins had lost Jason Pridie on waivers. They had to put Pridie on waivers to drop him from the 40-man roster in order to make space for recent signee Orlando Hudson.
There was a fair amount of debate locally on who would be dropped from the 40-man roster for Hudson, but I never saw anyone suggest it might be Pridie. After all, he was the only real option to back up Denard Span in center field heading into spring training. Now that designation seemingly falls on Jones shoulders.
Is another move coming to get a "true" center fielder, ala Endy Chavez or Wily Tavarez? No, probably not. If the Twins sign a 5th outfielder to a major league contract they have the same problem now that they had with Hudson - they need to find a spot on the 40-man roster. Their moves indicate they are now limited to offering minor-league contracts, like they did with Jacque Jones.
Which means if I'm the agent with a defensively-gifted minor league center fielder, I'm calling Bill Smith TODAY about a minor-league deal for my guy. Maybe Jones can handle center field. After all, he posted above average defense in center field for the Cubs as recently as 2007. But if Jacque can't, there aren't a lot of other options for the Twins.
Span needs a backup. And with Delmon Young in left field, Jason Kubel likely to get a fair amount of starts in one of the corners, and Cuddyer's shaky range last year there could be PLENTY of reasons for a defensive substitute late in games. On an otherwise loaded Twins roster, there is still a very real need there.
That might be best-handled with an offensively challenged rangy centerfielder, who are supposedly a dime-a-dozen in the minors. We'll see if an older ex-Twins can still handle it. And whether my friend is again ready to kvetch about Frenchy.