It’s not clear what the future holds for Adam Jones. The five-time All-Star turns 33 next month and has spent nearly all of his major league career with the Orioles after coming over in a trade with the Mariners prior to the 2008 season. Questions have swirled around Jones all season. Will he be traded? Will he hit free agency? Will the O’s offer him an extension? It’s anyone’s guess as to how it all turns out.
Meanwhile, Cedric Mullins is progressing well in the Orioles minor league system. He’s already earned a promotion from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk, and could very well make his way to Baltimore before season’s end. The 23-year-old is the heir apparent in center field, and things are lining up well for him to be the O’s starter next Opening Day.
Let’s assume Jones gets dealt prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. That feels like the most logical outcome. It has been a great decade in Baltimore for Jones. He has filled his trophy case and played an enormous role in returning the franchise back to winning ways. It’s unfortunate that his time in town may come to a close with the team struggling like this, but Jones deserves a shot at a World Series ring, and being traded to a contender right now is his best chance to make it happen. It also leaves open the possibility that he could reunite with the O’s in the off-season via free agency.
There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much trade talk surrounding Jones this year as there has been for teammates Manny Machado or Zach Britton. However, Jones has quietly had a solid season with the bat (.287/.313/.437, 10 home runs, 19 doubles) and could be one of the more affordable right-handed bats on the market. Which teams, exactly, would be in that market remains to be seen.
A lot depends on where on the field Jones would play following the trade. For the Orioles, Jones remains in centerfield despite advanced metrics showing that he’s not quite right for the position any longer. According to FanGraphs, he is last in the league among qualified center fielders in range runs (-8.9), ultimate zone rating (-10.3), ultimate zone rating per 150 games (-19.3) and defensive runs above average (-9.1). So, while Jones could be an offensive upgrade in center field for a few contenders, it’s unlikely they would be willing to take the hit on the defensive side of things.
Instead, it makes the most sense for all sides if Jones moves to a corner spot. The O’s could maximize the return, and Jones could show that he has an ability to play in left field or right field prior to hitting free agency.
It’s not a perfect comparison, but this is a similar situation as to what happened with Andrew McCutchen with the Pirates. McCutchen was the longtime centerfielder in Pittsburgh, a former MVP and Gold Glove winner, but Father Time wins all races. Things had gone south for McCutchen, and it was clear he could no longer perform defensively at the position. In January, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants, where he is now their everyday right fielder, and he grades out as above-average with the glove once again.
While it’s not easy to learn a new position in the middle of a season, there is little doubt that Jones could make a smooth transition. Showing an open mind towards playing in left field or right field creates many more opportunities for Jones to stick around the league for years to come.
Last week, Nelson Cruz was openly campaigning for the Mariners to make a run at Jones. The two played together in Baltimore during the 2014 season, and it’s clear they made a positive impression on one another. Robinson Cano’s suspension makes this the one possible landing spot where Jones could play center. Dee Gordon is back at his natural position to fill in for Cano, making Guillermo Heredia (.230/.330/.316, 0.1 WAR) the team’s centerfielder. Safeco Field is one of the most spacious outfields in the league, and asking Jones to patrol all of the caverns in the AL West would prove problematic, but he may still be better than Heredia.
The Rockies are in fourth place of a crowded NL West, but they still have an outside shot at the pennant. Left field has been a problem for them all season. As a unit, their left fielders have a -0.7 WAR, the worst mark in baseball. Former Oriole Gerardo Parra is the man at the position for them most days. He brings below average defense (-0.6 dWAR) and too little power (.424 slugging percentage) for playing in Coors Field so often.
Elsewhere, Kole Calhoun is having an atrocious season (.168/.221/.248, -1.1 WAR) in right field for the Angels. Jones is a California guy and always speaks affectionately of the west coast. This may be the place in the league where he is the most obvious upgrade.
The NL West-leading Diamondbacks are waiting to see when Steven Souza Jr. can return from a pectoral injury that has limited him to just 14 games this season. However, he was pretty bad before getting hurt (.163/.234/.186, -0.6 WAR). They may be better served to add Jones as an insurance policy. Of course, Jones can reject any trade he doesn’t like and will certainly want to remain a starter.
One final potential landing spot could be with the surprising Philadelphia Phillies. Jones could have the chance to fill a similar role to that of Nick Markakis with the Braves, a veteran with a proven track record that can guide a young roster. Not to mention, their right fielders are bad. As a unit, they have a -0.8 WAR, the second-worst mark in the NL.
The point here is that the Orioles could have plenty of suitors for Jones’s services. The biggest knock on him at this point in his career is his defense, and that can be partially fixed by moving him away from center field. That’s a fairly larger variable, but one that interested teams would likely feel confident about. However, don’t expect a huge haul in exchange for two-plus months of Adam Jones.
Going back to McCutchen for a moment. He was traded in January while he still had an entire season under contract, and he is nearly an entire year younger than Jones. The Pirates sent him to the Giants in exchange for Bryan Reynolds (a solid prospect, but not in the top 100), Kyle Crick (a young major league reliever that used to be a highly-touted prospect) and international bonus slot money (HA!), and that was with Pittsburgh picking up a chunk of McCutchen’s salary.
It is unlikely that the Orioles will receive nearly as much as the Pirates did for McCutchen. Jones’s 10-and-5 rights further complicate things as he can whittle down the possible trade partners himself. From there it is up to them whether they would prefer to get one realistic prospect that they really like, or if they just want salary relief for the remainder of the season.