While it was fascinating to see Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon sign during last week’s Winter Meetings, Adam Jones’ signing with Japan’s Orix Buffaloes was even more interesting.
The mega-signings along with a number of others in recent days has shown the return of a robust free-agent market, and that’s good for baseball.
However, it’s apparent that Jones, who had to wait until last March to get a tempting offer, had no appetite to wait into spring training to decide on his 2020 team.
Manny Machado, Jones’ longtime teammate, waited nearly as long as Jones but his wait was worth it — he signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres.
Jones signed with Arizona for 1 percent of Machado’s terms, $3 million for a year.
Five years ago, a player with Jones’ credentials as a centerfielder could have drawn perhaps a three-year $40 million contract, even at age 33, but because the free agent market was so cold he had to take the Diamondbacks’ offer.
Jones didn’t have a bad offensive year, though his .260 average was a career low. His 16 home runs and 67 RBIs were about what he produced in 2018, his final year in Baltimore, and his .728 OPS was just four points lower than his last Orioles’ season.
The analytics say that Jones has decliined defensively. Overall, Jones had WARs of 4.1, 4.7 and 4.8 from 2012-2014, but in 2018, his WAR slipped to 0.2 because his defensive metrics indicated he was no longer an elite centerfielder.
Last season, Jones’ overall WAR was -0.4, because of poor defensive numbers despite playing all but one game in right field.
Jones still could have been an effective fourth outfielder for a good team, and his clubhouse leadership has never been questioned.
Instead of hoping that a contender would think he’d be a worthy veteran, Jones signed a contract with the Buffaloes that conceivably could net as much as $15.5 million through 2022 if his option is exercised and he meets his incentive clauses.
Jones is adventurous, and loves to travel, and he’s sure to be popular in Japan, but it’s a shame that there wasn’t a soft landing spot for him in the major leagues.
Hot free-agent market, cool labor talk: After two years of relative boredom at the Winter Meetings, there was lots of buzz last week in San Diego.
Some ill-timed words from Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos before free agency began angered Players Association chief Tony Clark.
Clark believed that Anthopoulos was suggesting clubs were colluding with each other, and a number of prominent baseball writers were predicting tensions would continue to increase between MLB and the players.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement still has two years to run, and while many of the top-shelf free agents have signed, there are still a number left unsigned: Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Many veterans, including former Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop, are unsigned, and if the market for 30-somethings percolates, that will go a long way to ensuring that the next round of bargaining will go smoothly.
Tensions hot between majors and minors: One area where tensions haven’t cooled at all is the dispute between MLB and the minor leagues.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has been angered at the stance taken by the minors, who have accused him of trying to remove 42 teams.
Manfred and minor league president Pat O’Conner traded sharp charges last week with both sides accusing the other of being inflexible.
“I hope that Minor League Baseball, which has taken the position that they’re not willing to discuss anything but the status quo or any changes that would provide for upgrades in adequate facilities, better working conditions for our players,” Manfred said. “That they move off the take-it-or-leave-it status quo approach and come to the table and try to make a deal.”
MILB released a four-page statement Friday night rebutting MLB’s charges.
There’s talk that if no agreement is reached by next September when the current one ends that MLB will try to organize its own minor league system.
Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias indicated last week that he favors the club’s current geographic setup with four of its six affiliates in Maryland, and a fifth, in Norfolk, Virginia.
“We like the way our minor leagues are situated with Baltimore, with them all being so close,” Elias said.
MILB has a number of prominent legislators behind it. Legal and legislative pressure might be the only way to save some of the endangered teams.
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