BALTIMORE — Sunday was a tremendous day for the Orioles and their fans with the announcement of center fielder Adam Jones signing a six-year contract to remain in Baltimore through the 2018 season.
There’s plenty to smile about these days at Camden Yards with the club sitting in first place and off to its best start since 2005. Jones is off to the hottest start of his seven-year career in the big leagues after hitting 14 home runs in the first 48 games of the season.
It was that blistering production that pushed the Orioles’ hand in accelerating contract talks and presenting an $85.5 million contract to the 26-year-old center fielder, even though executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette had repeatedly stated his preference not to negotiate contracts during the season.
“The dude rang the cash register every time he hit a home run,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “Adam really forced the issue, didn’t he? We’re glad to have him for a long time.”
The deal not only makes Jones the second-highest-paid current center fielder in baseball — behind the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp — but it includes a no-trade clause, signifying an even bigger commitment by the Orioles to keep him in Baltimore.
Though he was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade prior to the 2008 season, Jones feels much like a homegrown player and identifies with Baltimore as his city after playing here for over four years.
“I really don’t see myself wearing another white uniform that doesn’t have Orioles across the chest,” Jones said. “After I put that in perspective, if I won here — if we win here — this is my championship. This is our championship. I’m not part of someone else’s championship [by signing elsewhere].”
Jones has expressed a strong desire to win over the last couple seasons, speaking with more volume and conviction than any of his teammates. There’s little disputing the Orioles’ 29-18 start had a major effect on both sides to get a deal done.
If you would flip the win and loss totals, we’d likely be talking about the Orioles trading Jones by the deadline instead of reacting to a long-term extension and wondering whether Duquette and the Orioles will be buyers in late July.
It’s amazing what two great months of baseball can do for an organization.
Nonetheless, the decision to keep Jones is an encouraging one for the fan base and should signal the Orioles are in win-now mode — not just in 2012, but in the next couple seasons. Locking up your best trade chip doesn’t make much sense if you still consider yourself years away from contention.
“We are telling Oriole fans we are committed to this player,” Duquette said. “We are committed to putting a winning team on the field and we’re committing to providing hope to rebuilding our fan base.”
Where do the Orioles go from here?
In terms of addressing contracts for players already in the organization, the club will likely shift its attention to All-Star catcher Matt Wieters over the next year to 18 months. Though he doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season, the backstop will be a difficult signing since he’s represented by super agent Scott Boras.
Whether you’re buying into the Orioles’ first two months in 2012 or not, it’s difficult envisioning the club having a great chance to make the postseason consistently over the next few years without adding more talent from outside the organization. However, a limited number of prospects in the farm system makes the reality of a trade a difficult — and unwise — one.
Does the steep financial commitment to Jones mean the Orioles will show more aggression in adding prime free-agent talent should it become available in the off-season?
“I don’t think the way to build a team is through free agency,” Duquette said. “I think the way to build a team is through an organizational approach where you sign and develop good players and then you keep the best players on your team, like we’re doing today.”
This answer was nothing new from Duquette, who has repeatedly echoed the sentiment since taking the Baltimore job last fall. However, it’s not the answer most fans want to hear, and it does make you wonder if the Orioles suddenly think they’re good enough to win solely with what they already have.
With no disrespect meant to Jones, who has clearly been the club’s best player this season and one of the best since his time in Baltimore, the Orioles’ decision to keep him in Baltimore doesn’t suddenly make them any better. It guarantees he’ll remain for the next six years, but it doesn’t push them closer to winning than where they already stood.
“It’s to be continued,” said manager Buck Showalter in describing the push to field a championship team. “I think everyone here is driven to put something together that stands the test of time.”