James Jones was acquired by the Texas Rangers from the Seattle Mariners in the trade that sent Leonys Martin and Anthony Bass to the Seattle Mariners, with Tom Wilhelmsen and Patrick Kivlehan accompanying Jones to Texas. The Rangers ended up non-tendering Jones, but then re-signed him to a minor league deal with an invite to the major league camp, and said he'd be a candidate for a backup outfielder job.
Well, we now have nine days to go before pitchers and catchers report, and at this stage, it appears Jones is going to win a backup outfielder job by default. Delino DeShields is the regular centerfielder, and Justin Ruggiano is in place as the fourth outfielder/backup first baseman, platooning with Josh Hamilton and/or Mitch Moreland while giving the team insurance in the corner outfield spots.
However, there's no one else on the 40 man roster who is a legitimate backup center field option. Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo have both played center field in the past, but neither would seem to be a realistic option for anything other than emergency innings in center field in 2016 (although this is the team that used Joey Gallo in center some last year, and had Mike Napoli playing left field, so I could be proven wrong).
The three NRI outfielders are Jones, Lewis Brinson and Ryan Cordell. While Brinson is a legitimate center fielder, he's not going to be on the team out of spring training in a bench role, and Cordell is more of a COF who can play CF if needed -- and like Brinson, Cordell isn't likely to be asked to sit on the major league bench to start the year.
Unless the Rangers are planning on going into the season without a true backup center fielder, it would appear right now that Jones is going to be on the Opening Day roster. I guess they could look at someone on a minor league deal who doesn't have an invite to the major league camp, like Jordan Danks or Ryan Strausborger, but then the question would be, why don't they have an invite to the major league camp?
I'm assuming the Rangers are continuing to talk to other free agents out there who are hoping for a big league deal, but who might be amenable to a minor league deal as camp approaches and nothing materializes. Drew Stubbs, who finished the 2015 season with the Rangers, is out there as a possibility. Texas could also be looking at trade possibilities, and the potential of flipping one of their extra bullpen arms for outfield depth.
I've mentioned before some concern about the team's outfield situation, due in no small part to my lack of confidence in Josh Hamilton being both healthy and productive, but the team has Patrick Kivlehan and Ryan Rua as potential corner outfield depth, so Hamilton going down wouldn't necessarily create a significant problem. The glaring hole behind DeShields in center, though, is a problem, and unless the team is going to go find enough chance in the sofa cushions to sign Austin Jackson, it may very well be that the team is banking on James Jones being the only backup (and insurance policy) for DeShields in the early going.