Andruw Jones Healthy, Primed To Add To Hall Of Fame Résumé

NEW YORK, NY: Andruw Jones #18 of the New York Yankees scores a fifth inning run against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Andruw Jones is healthier in 2012 than 2011, which might let him show more of the talent that made him one of the game's best players for more than a decade.

Andruw Jones is back with the Yankees, and maybe better than ever!

Well, not better than ever. But better than last year, probably. David Waldstein (via The New York Times):

Last year Jones required constant treatment on the knee just to stay in games. This year he says he not only can be the regular right-handed designated hitter, but with a stronger knee he believes the Yankees can rely on him to play the outfield more.

"No doubt," he said. "I’ve been running a lot. All I’ve been doing this offseason is just running. No lifting, well, maybe two times a week. But I did more running and agility stuff and trying to get in good playing shape and be a little lighter on the legs so maybe I can be out there and play more defense."

Unless somebody's hurt, the Yankees don't really need more defense from Jones. Last season he started 48 games in the outfield, which is actually quite a lot considering they've usually got Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher out there. Granted, Gardner and Granderson are both relatively ineffective against left-handed pitching, but their fielding edges over Jones makes some sort of platoon unlikely. And at this point, Jones is essentially the Yankees' only decent option for a DH against left-handed pitchers.

But sure, it'll be great if he's able to play one of the outfield spots for a week or two straight if needed. Because there's a decent chance that the starters won't all manage to avoid the DL again this season.

All of which is highly parochial and not likely to come up when, seven or eight months from now, we dissect the Yankees' season. But Andruw Jones is only 34, and it does seem strange that we're talking about him as if he's just sort of hanging around, picking up a few spare plate appearances here and there. Which he is.

It's strange because, unless you're a newborn pup, you can easily remember when he ranked among the best baseball players on this planet.

From 1997 through 2007 -- that's 11 full seasons, folks -- MLB's top five in Wins Above Replacement (via FanGraphs) were Barry Bonds (85), Alex Rodriguez (85), Andruw Jones (69), Chipper Jones (63) and Scott Rolen (61).

Even then, Jones was generally underrated because much of his value came from his defense, and the pundits somewhat criminally undervalue outfield defense unless it's Ken Griffey. Andruw Jones did win 10 Gold Gloves, but even that undersells his value; Jones might have been the best center fielder since Willie Mays.

For a while, anyway. When Jones lost it, he lost it suddenly and almost completely. In the four seasons since 2007, Jones has been roughly 3 Wins Above Replacement. Not per season. That would have been a bad season for him, in his 20s. He's totaled 3 fWAR in the last four seasons.

And of course he's not likely to get back to where he was. Now he's looking at another two or three or four seasons as a bat off the bench, with some occasional time in one of the corner outfield spots. Hardly Willie Mays, who played a lot of center field when he was 40.

But not being Willie Mays doesn't mean Andruw Jones wasn't a great player. Doesn't mean Andruw Jones doesn't actually belong in the Hall of Fame someday, maybe. Over the last 20 seasons -- which includes a few seasons in which Jones didn't play at all, because he was a teenager -- Jones ranks ninth in fWAR, just behind Scott Rolen and Ivan Rodriguez and just ahead of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez.

Oh, and just behind Derek Jeter, too. In fact, if Jones plays moderately well and moderately often for the next two or three seasons, he might actually pass Jeter.

I'm not going to argue that Andruw Jones is going to have a better career than Derek Jeter. I will argue that if Jeter deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame as soon as possible -- which he does -- then Andruw Jones deserves serious consideration from the voters. Which I fear he will not receive, because of his career arc.

And Jones isn't the only one. He's the best of the unfortunately forgotten center fielders, but what about Jim Edmonds, Kenny Lofton, and the recently retired Mike Cameron?

Jones has 72 fWAR. Jim Edmonds has 68. Lofton has 66. Cameron's got 53. With the exception of Cameron, all of those guys would fit comfortably into Cooperstown if you believe in Wins Above Replacement. Looking just at outfielders, Jones and Edmonds and Lofton all have more WAR than Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero, Andre Dawson, and Kirby Puckett. A lot more than Kirby Puckett.

Hall of Fame voters have always overvalued hitting and undervalued defense, except with shortstops. Maybe someday they won't, and players like Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton will get their due.

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