Pirates slugger Jones begins prepping for a 'big year'
BRADENTON, Fla. — There were times this offseason when Garrett Jones wondered whether he had played his final game with the Pirates.
Jones batted just .243 last season, his lowest average in three years with the team. He played in 10 fewer games, got 169 fewer at-bats and hit five fewer homers than he did in 2010. And, what's worse, Jones is 30 years old and arbitration-eligible, a combination that usually forces a budget-minded team's front office to make hard choices.
On Dec. 12, Jones nervously waited to hear whether the Pirates would tender him an offer or cut him loose. Jones didn't know which way it would go until shortly before the midnight deadline, when general manager Neal Huntington called to say the team would give him a new contract.
Even after that, it was hard for Jones not to hear the hot-stove talk about the Pirates browsing the free-agent market for a first baseman.
"I know there was talk about them (re-signing) Derrek Lee or getting somebody else," Jones said. "I stopped watching. I can't control any of that. When it's time for spring training, I've got to show them I'm better than the next guy."
That's why Jones opted to be among 38 major leaguers who volunteered for minicamp this week at Pirate City. Others who are gunning for his job — Andrew Lambo, Jeff Clement, Nick Evans, Jake Fox, Matt Hague — also attended.
If the season began today, Jones likely would platoon at first base with newcomer Casey McGehee, but he knows nothing is guaranteed.
"It's definitely a big year for me," Jones said. "I need to show I can be out there regularly and help the team on a consistent basis. I definitely think I can do that. I'm just trying to be relaxed and play the game. I don't want to over-do anything or over-think anything. Just play, have fun and win."
Jones' miserable career stats against left-handed pitchers — a .199 batting average and .601 OPS — mean his days as a full-time player are over. He admitted that he struggled to accept that last year: In the 52 games he played as a non-starter, he hit .196 and struck out in nearly a third of his at-bats.
"I started to feel a lot better as a pinch hitter as the year went on," Jones said. "I learned that aspect of the game where you're not playing regularly and you have to be ready. I had spurts where the consistency was there, and then on other days, I fell off the table."