‘Tis the season of adding depth to the roster fringe, and the Braves are in on the action:
Free-agent RHP Nate Jones to Braves on minor-league deal with invite to major-league camp, source tells @TheAthletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 9, 2021
A fifth-round pick of the 2007 MLB Draft, Jones made his debut in 2012 with the White Sox. He was quite dominant in his first two years in the majors, with a combined 80 ERA-, 71 FIP-, and 82 xFIP-. His 1.9 fWAR in 2013 made him a top 10 relief option that year.
Unfortunately for Jones, things were more of a struggle afterwards. A combination of back surgery and Tommy John Surgery limited him to just 19 innings over the next couple of years, including an ignominious 2014 where he faced five batters across two outings and retired none of them. He completely returned to form in 2016 (1.8 fWAR in over 70 innings), but then injuries struck again: a procession of elbow and shoulder maladies limited him to just 52 innings combined between 2017-2019, and his performance suffered: 68 ERA-/105 FIP-/106 xFIP-.
Jones caught on with the Reds on a minor league deal ahead ahead of 2020 season, but success was elusive. He put up a 137 ERA-/120 FIP-/99 xFIP- line in 18 2⁄3 innings. On the plus side, his velocity was up relative to 2019; on the minus side, it was the second consecutive year in which his homer-allowed rate increased by leaps and bounds. The Reds actually released him before the season concluded.
While the Braves might be hoping that the 35-year-old won’t be as bad as his surface-level stats from 2020 suggested, there’s not too much to be encouraged by, either. He hasn’t been a particularly useful reliever since 2017 by FIP or xFIP, and while his xwOBA-against was a nice .303 in 2019, it was a below average (especially for a reliever) .329 in 2020.
My guess is that the Braves may try to salvage some value by having him focus more on his slider and move away from his two-seamer towards his four-seamer — his sinker tends to “rise” rather than drop, and it might be time to figure out how to get the most of his velocity and spin, since nothing else has been working thus far.
Jones will join Carl Edwards Jr. and Victor Arano as recent additions to the organization that will vie for a bullpen spot in Spring Training.