BALTIMORE — It’s been a strange offseason for Major League Baseball. Pitchers and catchers will report to their spring training facilities starting next week. For the Orioles, that date is Tuesday, Feb. 12. Less than a week away, a number of big-name free agents like Bryce Harper and former Oriole Manny Machado remain free agents.
Going into the winter, both Harper and Machado expected to ink long-term deals worth hundreds of millions, but now it’s looking like a one or two-year deal might be their only option.
Another former All-Star still looking for a landing spot is Baltimore fan-favorite Adam Jones, who in September wrapped up his 11th season in an Orioles uniform. A five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove recipient, O’s fans adored Jones for his relentless desire to play every day and do it the right way. Additionally, Jones got involved with several nonprofit organizations in Baltimore, including the Living Classrooms Foundation, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore, Stocks in the Future, and others.
Factor this in with Jones being a leader and strong influence in the Orioles’ clubhouse, how could fans not consider Jones one of their all-time favorites?
After the Orioles traded away a number of players including Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Zack Britton, Brad Brach, and Darren O’Day, it was reported that the old Orioles regime led by Dan Duquette had approached Jones about a trade. Having at least 10 years of service with one Major League team, Jones held 10/5 rights and waived the rumored trade(s) off.
There were some sour feelings between Jones and the Orioles through the final two months of the 2018 season. Jones still got a proper sendoff during the final game of 2018 when he took the field by himself before first pitch. He was pulled before the top of the ninth inning and spent a few minutes hugging teammates and waving to fans at Camden Yards.
No one knew what Jones’s future looked like at the conclusion of the 2018 season. With Duquette still in-tact as general manager, most assumed that Jones refusing a trade severed any hopes of signing another deal to remain with the Orioles. But days after the season wrapped up the Orioles fired Duquette and hired Mike Elias six weeks later.
Naturally, Orioles fans started to wonder if the former Astros assistant general manger who turned a worst-place team into World Series Champions in a span of five years would explore a reunion with the most popular Oriole of the new millennium. At Elias’s introductory press conference, he made it known that the rebuild process will take multiple seasons and involves building an “elite pipeline” of talent throughout all levels of the organization.
Over the winter, the Orioles made no moves in free agency. But it didn’t matter. Elias was too busy integrating analytics and international scouting into an organization that had failed to utilize either area for years. He also had to make a number of hires that included Sig Medal (Assistant General Manager), Koby Perez (Senior Director of International Scouting), and Brandon Hyde (Manager).
At last month’s FanFest event, Elias met with reporters and reiterated a lot of what was discussed at his opening questionnaire alongside the Angelos brothers.
“There’s nothing we can do to flip a switch and get back to the playoffs immediately,” Elias said. “I hope it happens this year, but we’re going to have to build a sustainable base of talent for this organization in a very competitive division. It takes baseball players a little bit of time to get from amateur baseball to the Major Leagues. We’re very cognizant of that. If it happens this year, great. But we’re not setting those requirements in terms of a successful season.”
Naturally, one of the following questions Elias fielded was whether or not resigning Jones was on his radar.
“We’ll see,” Elias said. “Our focus is on elevating the capabilities of this organization and the talent level of this organization. I’ve got to keep sight of that. But we’re looking for ways to be opportunistic and shrewd with the players that are left unsigned right now.”
It sounds like Elias is definitely leaving the door open for Jones to return to the Orioles. However, there’s so much to be done in-house that is prioritized over signing a 33-year old outfielder to a new deal. Elias understands the love Baltimore has for Jones. But after the Orioles finished with their worst record in franchise history last year, aren’t these comments exactly what you want to hear?
With the Orioles likely to lose 100 games once again in 2019, there’s no need to have Jones patrolling the outfield on this team. Late into the season Baltimore called up Cedric Mullins to replace Jones in center. Mullins figures to be the everyday starting centerfielder in 2019. In the corners the O’s will likely start the season with Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, and DJ Stewart as their top options. Baltimore’s minor league system has a couple of outfielders who could make their big league debuts in 2019, including Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz, and even Ryan McKenna.
If two or more aforementioned names listed above suffers an injury during spring training and misses a lengthy period of time, perhaps the Orioles give Jones a call if he’s still available. The reality is the Orioles don’t have a spot for Jones at the moment, and he has no relationship with either Elias or Hyde. There’s also no argument to be made over bringing Jones back to be a designated hitter, because Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis will likely split time in that role.
For all Jones did for Baltimore, Orioles fans should hope for him to land somewhere that will allow him to compete for a World Series ring. Jones is approaching his mid-30’s and has missed time over the last few seasons nursing nagging injuries. His career clock is ticking. The goal for athletes in any sport is to win a championship. The reality is, Jones has a much better chance of winning a World Series away from the city that he dedicated 11 years of his career to.
Would Orioles fans love for Jones to mentor this young team and help with the rebuild? Absolutely. I’m sure Jones would embrace the opportunity too. But he doesn’t necessarily have to do it as a player. Jones could end his career away from Baltimore and come back to coach the Orioles after he retires.
The bottom line is as much as fans would love to have Jones suit up for the Birds in 2019, it’s best for both sides to focus on some new goals. For Jones, that’s ending his career as a champion. For the Orioles, it’s seeing what they have while loading the organization with talent to make Baltimore a contender again in the near future.