PITTSBURGH — Add Austin Jackson to the Mets’ rotating cast of outfield characters.
The Mets brought in Jackson on a league-minimum contract Friday to replace Matt den Dekker as a fourth outfielder, a move manager Mickey Callaway framed in part as an investment in the club’s future because what Jackson can teach his new teammates.
“We really value the things that he’s going to be able to bring to our young players,” Callaway said, citing Jackson’s plate approach, fundamental defensive play and clubhouse leadership. “Austin Jackson does a great job of staying up the middle of the field, driving the ball to right-center. And those are the type things that we want our young players to hone in on. We think that is going to be valuable to our approach in the future. We think it’s going to be vital to us winning more games in the future.”
Jackson, like den Dekker, has a strong defensive reputation, though he should provide a bit more at the plate. In 59 games with the Giants this season, Jackson managed a .242 average with a .309 OBP and .295 slugging percentage before he was traded to and released by the Rangers this month.
Den Dekker, who was designated for assignment, went 0-for-18 with one RBI in eight games.
With the Rangers on the hook for the rest of Jackson’s two-year, $6-million deal with the Giants from last winter, the Mets will owe him only a prorated amount of the league minimum $545,000.
Jackson, 31, is a veteran of nine major-league seasons. The Mets are his ninth organization. The first was the Yankees, who drafted him in the eighth round in 2005, groomed him into a top-100 prospect, and traded him to the Tigers as part of a December 2009 three-team deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Bronx.
Jackson has a career .274/.335/.399 slash line. Last year, with Cleveland, he slashed .318/.387/.482, his first year with above-average offense since 2013.
An outfield that started with five players competing for playing time — Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares, in that approximate order — has seen three of those players go down with injuries, including Lagares and Cespedes for the season. Jose Bautista, Dominic Smith, Phillip Evans, Ty Kelly and Kevin Kaczmarski have all played outfield since.
The Mets have missed Lagares since his season-ending toe surgery in May.
“We’ve really missed him. There’s a lot of value in defense,” Callaway said. “If you can save two runs, it’s like scoring two runs. We saw that with Matt den Dekker. He did a great job defensively while he was here. With our pitching staff and the way we’re going to lean on our pitchers, we think defense is very important moving forward.”