With less than six weeks until spring training, there are dozens of free agents on the market, including some of the most popular Orioles in recent years.
While Manny Machado is expected to sign a mammoth contract, perhaps with the Yankees in the coming days, and Zach Britton has been getting lots of attention, arguably the most popular of the recent Orioles hasn’t attracted much attention.
Adam Jones, who represented the Orioles nobly for the past decade, hoped to be a sought-after free agent, but it doesn’t look likely now.
When the free-agent season began, MLBTradeRumors.com predicted that Jones would land a one-year, $8-million contract with Cleveland. Jones was ranked 46th on their list of top 50 free agents.
Jones who turned 33 in August, would like a multi-year contract, but might have to settle for a one-year deal.
The lack of attention has counterintuitively encouraged many Orioles fans who who would like to see him return. The Orioles could use a right fielder, and why not bring back Jones for another year or two?
Selfishly, I would like that. I’ve always been a Jones supporter, and his outgoing personality makes for great copy. Without him, there’s no logical leader.
Jones leads by example. In eight of his last nine seasons with the Orioles, Jones played at least 145 games, choosing to play with nagging—and sometimes worse—injuries.
Although his offensive numbers slipped last season, they were still relatively strong. He batted .281, which was just three points above his career average. His 15 home runs and 63 RBIs were the lowest since 2008, his first year with the Orioles, and his OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .732, was below his career average of .774 but not embarrassing.
Jones’ offensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was 2.6, but his defensive WAR (dWAR) fell dramatically to -2.3. His play in center field encouraged the Orioles to add Cedric Mullins in August and move Jones to right field. The change hurt badly, but Jones handled it with class.
If the Orioles don’t have an obvious right fielder, should they consider Jones?
The regime of general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde is unfamiliar with Jones, and sentiment doesn’t appear to be an important consideration.
However, DJ Stewart played just 17 September games for the Orioles, and just three were starts in right. The Orioles had hoped that Austin Hays would have been their right fielder sometime last season, but injuries truncated his season, and he didn’t perform well at Double-A Bowie when he played.
Mark Trumbo is a liability in the field, and Joey Rickard isn’t considered as a full-time candidate. Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna had rocky stints at Bowie and need more time in the minors.
Jones could have moved on at the end of July, but vetoed a proposed trade to Philadelphia.
Former executive vice president Dan Duquette’s brusque public comments about Jones didn’t help the situation. Jones had earned the right to nix the deal with 10 years of major league service and five with the Orioles.
Even if Elias wanted to sign Jones, that veto power works against a Jones return.
He’s indicated he’ll be interested in free agents as prices come down, but some of them would be signed for their ability to bring back players in return in July deals.
That wouldn’t be possible with Jones, who would continue to have veto power with the Orioles, but not with any of the other 29 major league teams and is unlikely to waive that provision for what could be a four-month stint with the Orioles in 2019.
When Andrew McCutchen signed a three-year, $50-million deal with an option for 2022 with the Phillies, some Jones supporters thought he could get a deal close to that.
But McCutchen is a year younger and has a career 42 WAR while Jones’ is 32.4, and he played a full season in right field in 2018.
Although a Jones return to the Orioles makes sense on many levels, the guess here is that he’ll sign elsewhere, hopefully with a contender, and that team will be happy to have him.