BALTIMORE — Longtime center fielder Adam Jones and the Orioles could be nearing a break over the next few days.
The next few months will determine whether they break up after more than a decade together.
It’s more complicated than the last-place Orioles beginning their rebuilding process and Jones wanting to win a World Series, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old admits he’s intrigued by contending clubs’ interest in his services for the stretch run. Whether a potential deal compels him to waive his no-trade clause remains to be seen.
“It’s like the first day of school when you wear that outfit and you see what kind of interest everybody has in you — who’s flirting with you and what not,” Jones said. “It’s cool. It’s flattering. It’s uncommon territory.”
Assuming that he’s so desperate to escape a historically-poor 2018 club that he’ll blindly accept a trade anywhere shows a lack of understanding of the man. Jones will weigh all variables, starting with the comfort of his family, before making his own decision — not the one others think he should make. He sounds open to the possibility of moving to a corner outfield position for a contending club, but it must be the right fit and Jones isn’t one to delve into hypothetical talk about where that could be, leaving much uncertainty in the meantime.
This is a delicate situation for the Orioles, who have been clobbered on the diamond in 2018 and are desperately in need of some positive vibes with their fan base as the next couple seasons appear bleak. Putting aside the missteps that led to the current state of affairs, the trades of four-time All-Star infielder Manny Machado and two-time All-Star closer Zach Britton were obvious decisions to make, but that doesn’t mean fans are happy with the end result. Jones is the closest thing to a true face of the franchise the Orioles have had since Hall of Famer Cal Ripken nearly 20 years ago, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. His play on the field and unparalleled work in the community should be celebrated now and for many years to come, making him more valuable to the Orioles than any other club.
If we’re being honest, Jones is unlikely to fetch all that much of a return in a trade with the potential holdup of where he would play and the remainder of his $17.33 million salary owed being the biggest obstacles. It doesn’t appear that trading him would alienate Jones, but that’s assuming he’s treated with the proper respect and courtesy in the process. He hasn’t indicated that a deadline trade to a contender would preclude him from re-signing with the Orioles in the offseason, but there’s the distinct possibility that he finds the grass to be greener elsewhere and a new team falls in love with him in a way like Baltimore has, diminishing the possibility of a reunion.
If that’s indeed what the Orioles want.
“Is the door open?” said Jones about possibly re-signing with Baltimore if he’s traded at the deadline. “You can want all you want. A lot of people want things, but if that door is not open, you’re just going to be sitting outside knocking. Who knows?”
The report of Jones meeting with executive vice president John Angelos, son of owner Peter Angelos, indicates the Orioles being interested in continuing their relationship beyond 2018, but re-signing an outfielder entering his mid-30s may not be the best baseball decision for a rebuilding club whose deepest minor-league depth resides in the outfield with the likes of Cedric Mullins, Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart, and Ryan McKenna all at advanced levels of the farm system.
Jones entered Thursday batting .277 with 10 home runs, 38 runs batted in, and a .727 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s had a solid season, but his homer pace and current OPS would represent his lowest marks since 2008, his first season with the Orioles. His .304 on-base percentage would be the lowest of his career.
According to Baseball Reference, his 0.3 wins above replacement also puts him on pace for a career low, but that underwhelming WAR is primarily a reflection of his minus-15 defensive runs saved in center field, a position he knows he’s unlikely to be playing next season. It’s reasonable to think a move to a corner spot would ease the burden on his body and allow him to maintain his production at the plate for a few more years, but baseball players have varying expiration dates, no matter how much teams try to anticipate them.
Re-signing Jones to a reasonable deal for the next few seasons to be a right fielder, a leader and mentor for younger players, and the continued face of the franchise looks great on paper and would bring value off the field, but what if his numbers decline further, creating an awkward logjam with other younger options? The storybook ending would be the Orioles once again rising to prominence with Jones still contributing in the twilight in his career, but what if the losing continues longer than the organization hopes and he grows disenchanted after a year or two?
Perhaps both sides will ultimately decide to part amicably with no hard feelings and an understanding that Jones will always be an Oriole and have a home in Baltimore and that the organization will forever be indebted to him and the long-term commitment he made six years ago.
His legacy is important to him and extends far beyond the home runs and diving catches. Jones’ commitment to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore and other charitable endeavors is another factor that could keep him an Oriole beyond 2018. And it speaks to how fortunate this community has been to have him pass this way.
“My thing is what would happen to all the things I’ve done here?” Jones said. “It would be hard. Who would pick up the slack? All the community involvement. A lot of that stuff needs to continue. Those kids are counting on the funding to continue the programs they are striving and grinding their way through. There are a lot of dynamics to me here in Baltimore. It’s not just me between the lines.”
His decision is bigger than baseball, but the thought of a player with such a desire to win being saddled with a losing club in the final years of his career is difficult to take for even the biggest Orioles fans.
Jones is on a ride with an unclear destination. But unlike Machado and Britton, he has a say in the matter, and he’s earned that much for everything he’s done over the last decade.
“It’s interesting. We shall see what happens,” Jones said. “I don’t know what the plan is here for the future or if I’m even part of it, so let’s see what interest can be generated and see how my representation and my family feel about something that could happen.”
Whether it’s just a break, a breakup, or merely the latest chapter in a terrific relationship remains to be seen.