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Jones prepared to go with the flow

Jones prepared to go with the flow

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When someone greets Garrett Jones in the clubhouse with "Nice to see you" and he responds, "Nice to be seen," it's not a cliche. It's a confession, which would be more emphatic only if he added "here."

After an offseason spent on the block, Jones is still on the Bucs' roster. This is a development that pleases him but does not surprise him.

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"I would have been more surprised if I wasn't here," Jones said on Friday morning, shortly before the Pirates took the wet fields of Pirate City for the team's first full-squad Spring Training workout. "It was a strange winter. You hear all the rumors. I don't know how serious things were, but I felt like, deep down, they wanted to keep me here -- unless it was an unbelievable trade you can't turn down.

"They want me here, and I'm glad I'm here. I think they believe I can help the team win, and that's what I want to do."

Jones' availability was genuine, but the market didn't go anywhere because general manager Neal Huntington never heard an offer commensurate with Jones' market value, which the GM felt peaked after a season with 27 homers and 86 RBIs. The most sincere negotiations appeared to be with the Mariners, who eventually filled their need for left-handed power with another first baseman-outfielder, getting switch-hitting Kendrys Morales from the Angels.

So Jones stayed rooted as the incumbent candidate in two very crowded areas, leaving open the real possibility of subsequent moves that would use the surplus to get help from elsewhere. Gaby Sanchez is a first baseman by trade; Travis Snider, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata are backed up in right; Clint Robinson and Jerry Sands have the same slash as Jones.

"They've brought in a lot of guys, good players," Jones conceded. "There will definitely be a lot of competition at first base and in the outfield. I feel I'm still here because they know I can produce. I've just got to continue to do what I can, show that I can be out there on a day-to-day basis."

One of the Pittsburgh players who perfectly mirrors the city's culture by being a hard-nosed grinder, Jones could have two edges in those competitions: He is valuable on the payroll, and invaluable on the field.

Jones' $4.5 million contract, settled upon to avoid arbitration, represents a sizable investment for the club. And although others are able to play first and right, Jones' experience at both positions is hard to match. His playing time was evenly divided between the two last season (65 starts at first, 58 in the outfield), as it has been throughout his career (236-239).

Manager Clint Hurdle has no early hunch of how all this might play out.

"That's what you have Spring Training for -- give men an opportunity to get out there and play games, face live pitching," said Hurdle who, contrary to feeling overwhelmed by the choices, relishes them.

"I love the depth," he said. "And I like the individuals involved. We like everyone in camp for a particular reason. We understand what Garrett is capable of doing, what Sanchez can do."

Hurdle could not even foresee whether regulars could emerge at each of the two positions, or if both will again be revolving doors. He claimed no preference.

"It depends on how everything else plays out," said Hurdle, alluding to roster composition. "If you break down clubs that have played in the postseason, you run into some hybrid teams -- like the teams [Tony] La Russa put out there -- that had changes throughout the season."

Clarity could help the players involved, but going with the flow is critical.

"Playing only one position is the easiest way to go," Jones said, "but if that's not the case, if I'm bouncing back and forth, you've just got to be prepared -- take fly balls in the outfield, take ground balls at first base. I think I've gotten used to it a little more."

He has also gotten a little more used to facing left-handed pitchers, which is key to everyday play. After he and the right-handed-hitting Casey McGehee began last season by platooning at first base, both became lineup fixtures briefly, regardless of the pitcher's orientation.

"The more times you get to see the release point and how lefties pitch you, the more and more comfortable you get," Jones said. "You can come up with an approach."

Jones' .189 average versus southpaws (90 points lower than his rate against righties) didn't exactly fix the perception that he -- like many left-handed hitters with a power stroke -- has trouble against lefties. He'd like to keep working on that one, and you have to give him a good shot considering other misconceptions about his play.

People look at a 6-foot-4, 230-pound rock and conclude that neither foot speed nor defensive agility are fortes. Yet Jones is one of the Pirates' quickest first-to-third baserunners and has been successful on 26 of 35 career steal attempts, and he can turn impressively athletic feats in the outfield.

"I take a lot of pride in my defense," he said. "I don't want to go out there to be a lump."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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