The Cleveland Indians outfield situation is a bit of a mess, and the front office has attempted to fix it with a slew of platoon and part-time options such as Rajai Davis, Collin Cowgill, and the recently signed Will Venable. They were also heavily interested in free agent outfielder Austin Jackson, who could have been more of a full-time center field solution, but lost out when he signed with the divisional rival Chicago White Sox on a one-year, $5 million deal.
As Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting, the Tribe front office was very interested in Jackson -- and even promised him a lot of playing time in Cleveland -- but the 29-year-old outfielder wanted to play in Chicago more.
White Sox signed Jackson for 1 year/$5 million. Tribe felt it would have taken more to get him to Cle and budget is tight right now.— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) March 7, 2016
Indians promised Austin Jackson a lot of playing time if he came to Cleveland, but felt Jackson wanted to play in Chicago.— paul hoynes (@hoynsie) March 7, 2016
Hoynes' tweets make it appear that the Indians front office was in heavy pursuit of Jackson, but they got caught up in a bidding war they could not win with their constrained budget. After Abraham Almonte was suspended 80 games for PED use, the front office seemed to be done with free agent signings, noting that they would look internally to fill the vacancy in center field. We have known for some time that the budget was tight, but it was apparently too tight to pay more than $5 million for Jackson.
Jackson would not have cost the Indians a first-round pick in next year's draft -- he was traded mid-season and thus ineligible for a Qualifying Offer after the season ended -- which likely made him more appealing that someone like Dexter Fowler, who recently re-signed with the Chicago Cubs.
Last season, Jackson slashed .267/.311/.385 with 17 stolen bases in 136 games split between the Chicago Cubs and the Seattle Mariners. ZiPS projects a small decline from Jackson in 2016, pegging him for a .261/.315/.392 slash and 1.7 fWAR, compared to the 2.3 fWAR he was worth in 2015.
For those of you keeping track at home, this is the second offseason target the White Sox have seemingly swept in and "stole" from the Indians. Both teams were reportedly attempting to trade for Todd Frazier as well, but the Cincinnati Reds ultimately dealt him to the White Sox.