The Orioles’ Adam Jones dilemma can be summed up by quoting the great philosopher Buck Showalter: “If not him, then who?”
If the Orioles don’t re-sign Jones to play right field for the next year or two, then who will they play there?
When Cedric Mullins was promoted to play center field on Aug. 10, Jones moved over to right field. If someone else plays center, which is where Joey Rickard was in Tuesday night’s 5-3 win over the Seattle Mariners, Jones stays in right.
At 33, Jones’ power numbers have slipped. With 14 homers and 55 RBIs this season, he’s heading for his lowest numbers since 2009. But his batting average, .282, and on-base percentage, .314, are close to his career numbers.
Jones had the chance to go elsewhere just ahead of July’s non-waiver trade deadline, but he vetoed a proposed trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. As a major leaguer with 10 years of service and five years with the Orioles, he had the right to decline the deal.
At the end of the season, Jones will be a free agent. He can survey the market and see if anything appeals to him. Will the Orioles be one of his suitors, and would he prefer to stay in Baltimore?
The answers are unknown, but there are reasons to think the Orioles would want to keep him for at least 2019 and perhaps 2020.
With the Orioles looking toward the future, they hoped they could feature an outfield of Mullins in center with DJ Stewart in left and Austin Hays in right.
However, Stewart, the team’s top draft pick in 2015, had a disappointing 2018, hitting only .235 at Triple-A Norfolk, and Hays missed much of the season because of an ankle injury. Hays, who hit .217 in 20 late-season games with the Orioles in 2017, batted just .242 in 66 games at Double-A Bowie.
Neither Hays nor Stewart was promoted when their minor league seasons ended Monday. Barring a bang-up spring training, both would be expected to start 2019 in the minor leagues.
The Orioles already are taking long looks at Rickard and John Andreoli, who was in left field on Tuesday. They’ve seen lots of Rickard, who was a Rule 5 draft choice in December 2015, in the last three seasons, and are seeing what Andreoli can do. Andreoli was picked up on waivers from Seattle last month.
Mark Trumbo might not be available to start next season. He’s scheduled for arthroscopic surgery on his right knee this week, and the projected rehab time is six months.
Even though Trumbo played just 19 games in right field this season, he hits better when playing in the field than when he’s strictly a designated hitter.
If Hays, Stewart and Trumbo aren’t with the Orioles to start next season, who will flank Mullins?
The Orioles would like to play Trey Mancini at first base more often next year, but without Stewart or Hays, he could begin next season back in left field.
Anthony Santander, the Rule 5 pick in December 2016, finally fulfilled his Rule 5 obligations in May, but a .249 average in the minors wasn’t enough to earn him a September promotion. He might not start the season with the Orioles next year, either.
Neither will Yusniel Diaz, the Cuban who was the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, nor Ryan McKenna. Both Diaz and McKenna didn’t have an easy time at Bowie.
Diaz batted .239 in 29 games with the Baysox, and McKenna, who terrorized the Carolina League with a .377 average in 67 games for Class-A Frederick, hit only .239 in 60 games at Double-A.
The Orioles might re-sign Jace Peterson as a utility player, but he’s used more in the infield.
If not Diaz, Hays, McKenna, Santander, Stewart and Trumbo, then who? If Mancini is back in left, at least to start the season, there’s still an opening in right.
It’s likely the Orioles will try to sign some low-cost free agents as placeholders until the younger outfielders are ready for major league duty. The Orioles signed Craig Gentry, Alex Presley, Colby Rasmus and Danny Valencia to minor league contracts in the early part of spring training this year, but any free agents signed next year are going to have to contribute more than that group did.
If the Orioles don’t have a logical candidate to play right field for next year, what about Jones? If the Orioles need a bridge to the next generation, who better than Jones?
Jones would have to take a sizable pay cut from the $17.33 million he makes this season. The Orioles aren’t going to extend Jones a qualifying offer. In 2017, qualifying offers were $17.4 million. If the Orioles would give Jones a qualifying offer, he would most certainly take it. If Jones declined the qualifying offer, the team could get compensation.
Last winter’s free-agent marketplace was the most puzzling in memory. Veterans such as Jones were shunned, at least until late in the signing season. If that’s the case again, that could make it easier for Jones to return to the Orioles.
A move to bring back Jones would be a popular one with the fans, who have few players to identify with after the roster remake. In the absence of an obvious choice to play right field, a Jones return seems to make good sense for the Orioles, too.