GLENDALE, Ariz. – As offseasons go, this was the longest for Austin Jackson, who waited … and waited … and waited to find a new home.
Jackson finally found one with the White Sox, signing a one-year, $5 million deal Sunday and wasting no time getting to their spring training camp Monday morning. Brought on board to strengthen the Sox’ outfield depth and to possibly be their regular center fielder, Jackson was all smiles after being introduced to and working out with his new team
“It’s awesome. You miss the clubhouse, just seeing your teammates each and every day and just bond with them,’’ said Jackson, who checked in with 23 days left in spring training. “I’m not sure if I know everybody’s name yet, but I’m working around to it. I can already tell right now it’s a fun clubhouse. I walk in there and guys are already giving me crap about stuff I did years ago. I’m looking forward to it.’’
Like his former Cubs teammate Dexter Fowler for the last couple months of the 2015, Jackson, 29, had interest from other teams but had to wait out a super slo-mo free agent market for outfielders.
There was no qualifying offer attached to Jackson, who is represented by Scott Boras, but still.
“I talked to Dex quite a lot this past offseason,’’ Jackson said. “We were kind of in the same boat. So it was good to talk to someone I played with and who was also going through some of the same things. We shared things back and forth with each other.’’
They sat home and had their patience tested to the hilt as the big three outfielders in the market — Alex Gordon, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes – weren’t signed until late January. Fowler returned to the Cubs after the start of camp.
“You’re kind of just waiting your turn,’’ said Jackson, who batted .267/.311/.385 over 527 plate appearances between the Mariners and Cubs last season. “There’s a pecking order, so you kind of see what’s going on. You’re informed of what’s going on but most likely those guys are going to have to get signed before you do. That’s just how it is.
“Once you get to this point in spring training, teams start to see maybe what else they might need – depth and things like that. I think I kind of fell into that category.”
Jackson reportedly could have signed for a bit more with the Angels but preferred an opportunity to play center field, where he was a mainstay for the Detroit Tigers from 2010-14 and for the Seattle Mariners after that. The Cleveland Indians were also interested.
Sox center fielder Adam Eaton also prefers center but says he’ll play in a corner if that’s best for the team. He has played all three outfield spots through college, the minor leagues and the majors and right now is stuck as a designated hitter while he builds up his arm strength following offseason surgery.
“Anyone who would put a team together would want three center fielders out there,” Eaton said. “It’s only going to improve our defense, our personnel and make us a better team.
“Jackson can run. I don’t know where he may hit or even where I may hit, I think all that stuff is up in the air now. But some speed on the base paths and he’s that can get it done.”
“He can defend very well in the outfield, and in center field, so there’s an opportunity to have him go out there and Eaton can move around a little bit,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We do have some flexibility to get guys playing multiple positions and move it around and give us some better options against lefties.’’
Jackson was assigned a locker next to former Tigers teammate Alex Avila.
“That’s my boy there,’’ he said.
He’s already fitting in.