Tigers acquire outfielder Jones
Utility infielder Infante headed to Chicago
DETROIT -- Jacque Jones was one of the rare visiting left-handed hitters to hit an opposite-field home run in Comerica Park before the left-field fence came in, back when it took a 395-foot drive to reach the fence in left-center. He was the first player to homer off of Jeremy Bonderman when Bonderman made his Major League debut in 2003.
He already has a small place in Tigers lore as an opponent. Now that he's a Tiger himself, traded by the Cubs along with cash considerations on Monday for utility infielder Omar Infante, he's hoping to add to that history on the other side.
"I'm going from one good team to another, playing for a very good manager," Jones said Monday afternoon. "I'm excited."
By pulling off the one-for-one swap, the Tigers filled their need for a left-handed bat to add some semblance of balance to a predominantly right-handed lineup. Until this deal, Curtis Granderson and switch-hitter Carlos Guillen were the only lefties slated to play regularly in Detroit's batting order.
The Tigers had tried to add a left-handed outfielder as far back as last offseason, but couldn't pull off a deal. With the Cubs looking to free up what had been a crowded outfield mix at season's end, they found their opportunity here.
"He gives us the capability," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's a proven left-handed hitter that can play left field."
Most likely, he'll platoon there, probably with Marcus Thames but with Ryan Raburn also potentially in the mix. The combination of left-handed aces in the American League Central, from Minnesota's Johan Santana to Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia to White Sox star Mark Buehrle, will prevent Jones from having a truly everyday role. As his history shows, though, he can be an effective run producer when he's left to attack right-handed pitching, especially in his new home park.
For his career, the 32-year-old Jones is a .294 hitter against right-handed pitchers, compared to .233 versus lefties. However, he hit left-handers for a .295 average in 78 at-bats this past season compared to .283 versus righties, one of many statistical curiosities in what ended up being a streaky 2007 season for him.
Jones averaged 25 home runs and 78 RBIs a season from 2004-2006 before hitting just five homers this year to go with 66 RBIs and a .285 batting average. Yet it was essentially a season of two halves. He headed into the All-Star break with a .233 average, two home runs and 20 RBIs. From there, he batted .332 with three homers and 46 RBIs in 258 plate appearances, helping the Cubs surge into the postseason.
"Just more balls dropped," Jones said. "I had a more consistent approach. I didn't have any luck [in the first half]. I didn't have any consistency.
"It was a trying time for me in the first half, but looking back on it, it was a great thing. I got to see what I was made of. The mental side of the game was tested a lot going through all that. Just talking with different people after the season, I felt like it was one of the seasons I'm most proud of, because of that."
The Tigers are banking on the second-half hitting being closer to the norm than the earlier side.
"We look at him as a very solid player who is a .280, .290 type of hitter," Dombrowski said. "He's always been known as a doubles hitter. He had a tremendous second half average-wise."
His numbers are similarly effective for his career at Comerica Park, where he was a frequent visitor with Minnesota for six years. He's a .287 lifetime hitter there in 191 plate appearances, slugging 13 doubles, seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 47 games. He batted .407 (11-for-27) there in 2002 alone, including that aforementioned opposite-field home run to left. A year earlier, he had four doubles in 30 at-bats.
"I've always liked hitting in that park, just because it's spacious," Jones said. "It's not really a home run-hitting park, but there's a lot of space out there. If you stay out of the middle of the field as far as fly balls, you can hit there."
That's what the Tigers certainly are hoping to see from him again, this time in a home uniform. Add in Jones' contract situation, and there was a fit.
However manager Jim Leyland mixes Jones with Thames and Raburn, the combination essentially will hold down the spot for a year to give top prospect Cameron Maybin another year of development in the Minor Leagues. Jones is due to make $5.5 million next season, the final year of his contract. He also has $1 million due from the signing bonus he agreed to when he finalized the contract two years ago, which the Cubs are expected to cover.
Infante, who will turn 26 years old next month, had an up-and-down career in Detroit, beginning as a shortstop prospect four years ago. He batted .264 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs in his only season as an everyday Major League player in 2004, but moved from starting second baseman to utility infielder the following summer when the Tigers acquired Placido Polanco from Philadelphia.
He began to settle comfortably into a utility role in 2006, showing an ability to hit after sitting for several games in a row. However, he never got a chance to play regularly again, including down the stretch that year after Polanco missed more than a month with a separated shoulder. He batted .271 in just 166 at-bats in 2007 with two home runs and 17 RBIs, essentially losing his role to Ramon Santiago when the Tigers wanted the stronger-armed Santiago playing at short.
"He's played that [utility] role for a while with us," Dombrowski said of Infante. "And sometimes when guys are younger, they need a change of scenery where they get a little stale in that role."
Infante will likely remain a utilityman in Chicago. He's eligible for arbitration this winter after making $1.3 million this past season.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.