Three weeks from today, pitchers and catchers will report to mark the start of spring training. Not much more than two months from today, Opening Day will arrive and another baseball season will be off and running. Despite this, not many teams have been in a rush to sign free agents, leaving a plethora unsigned, including longtime Orioles stalwart Adam Jones.
When the season ended, with Jones set to become a free agent, the possibility of a reunion seemed slim. The previous Orioles administration under Dan Duquette showed little interest in working out any kind of contract extension with Jones, and understandably tried to trade the pending free agent before Jones used his 10-and-5 rights to veto a trade.
Fans attending home games in Baltimore towards the end of the season got the feeling things were coming to an end with the greatest Oriole of the 21st century. The youth movement would be the new thing, and before that, some lean times were on the way.
Why would Jones want to stick around for that, especially if he knew it meant remaining displaced from his preferred center field position? How could the O’s even find room for him to play as they try to find their outfield of the future? The inevitability of moving on became even more apparent once the O’s chose Mike Elias as the new general manager.
It’s late January now and no one else has signed Jones amidst a seeming league-wide collapse of the free agent market, particularly pronounced for players the farther they get on the other side of age 30. The new Orioles brain trust should take another look at Jones, if he’s interested in dropping back in for what everyone already knows will be something of a lost year.
I’ll be the first to admit that Jones is a sentimental favorite for me. It’s no coincidence to me that his peak as a player coincided with the O’s good run from 2012-16. That doesn’t happen without Jones.
Even those good feelings weren’t enough to keep me from feeling like Jones staying in center field last summer, with prospect Cedric Mullins seemingly ready for a big league audition, would be a good idea. When the O’s finally made the move in August of Jones to right field, I was glad to see it. As much as Jones was a part of great O’s teams of the recent past, he wasn’t very likely to be around for the next good O’s team.
There are, hopefully, good or great outfielders on the way from the existing crop of prospects on the farm. There’s reason to have at least some hope for a trio of O’s minor leaguers, including the lone top 100 prospect they acquired in last July’s trades, Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz.
With the possibility of Austin Hays returning to form after a rough 2018 campaign and Ryan McKenna continuing his 2018 breakout, that’s a full outfield of MLB hopefuls just at Double-A Bowie or above, without even getting into Mullins and 2018 September call-up DJ Stewart, who finished the year with the O’s and figure to be penciled in for more significant auditions in 2019.
That wave of players, or part of it, may be coming soon, but the minor leaguers don’t figure to be in the picture for Opening Day or the first half of the season at all. Although Hays raced to the big leagues in 2017 after hitting 32 homers between Frederick and Bowie, his 2018 injury-plagued setback saw him bat just .242/.271/.432 in 66 games for Bowie. That doesn’t scream a guy who breaks camp with the team.
Diaz, 22, was blazing hot for the Dodgers Double-A Tulsa affiliate at the time of the Manny Machado trade, batting .314/.428/.477 in 59 games before the deal. Because O’s fans aren’t allowed to have nice things, that did not continue on into Bowie, with Diaz jumping into the O’s organization and finishing the season with a .239/.329/.403 batting line in his final 38 games. The old O’s regime had reportedly tried to tinker with Diaz’s swing immediately upon his arrival.
It also seems safe to say Diaz isn’t headed for the Opening Day roster, with another few months at least in Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk in his future. That’s probably true as well for McKenna, who continued a strong 2018 season into the Arizona Fall League, but at 21 with just 60 Double-A games under his belt, again, he’s not likely to fill a spot in Baltimore come late March.
What it all adds up to is that there’s room for Jones for another year, especially if he has an understanding that when July rolls around, he might be spending a bit more time as designated hitter. Of course, that assumes that the Elias/Brandon Hyde O’s will not waste time on Mark Trumbo or Chris Davis if they’re underperforming.
With the O’s payroll only having about $78 million in current 2019 commitments, according to Cot’s Contracts, there’s plenty of space to pay Jones something like the one year and $8 million contract that MLB Trade Rumors projected in November that he would get.
Jones isn’t going to single-handedly save the O’s from their 2019 fate. No one who watched last year’s team could ever believe otherwise. Even if Hyde agreed to the return of post-game pies along with a return of Jones, there won’t be many chances to deliver them.
These dudes are going to lose a lot of games. Jones might not even want to be around for that, and no one could blame him if he didn’t. But as he sits there in the Cal Ripken Jr. mansion that’s now the Adam Jones mansion, pondering his still-unsigned fate, the idea of another year of commuting from there to Oriole Park at Camden Yards might start sounding good. If he wants to sign up for another year, the O’s should be open to making it happen.
Do you want to see Adam Jones on the 2019 Orioles?
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