The Most Valuable Oriole ... So Far
Each week, two PressBox baseball writers weigh in with their thoughts on a different question. With the first 40-plus games in the books, Jim Henneman and Matt Palmer discuss the Most Valuable Oriole of the first quarter of the season.
By Jim Henneman
On a team that hasn't had a winning record in 14 seasons and suddenly finds itself leading the pack at the quarter-pole, you'd suspect there would be plenty of Most Valuable Player candidates. Although that claim could be made for the Orioles, currently flying in the rarified air of first place in baseball's toughest division, it is mainly window dressing featuring supporting characters to the drum major, who is leading the parade.
It might have been slightly controversial when Adam Jones, rather than J.J. Hardy, won last year's Most Valuable Oriole award, but there can be no denying that, thus far at least, Jones is the leader of the pack in 2012.
There could be cases made for catcher Matt Wieters' overall contribution, despite an offensive falloff the last couple of weeks; Hardy, whose home run totals often overshadow his brilliant defensive work at shortstop; starters Jason Hammel or Wei-Yin Chen, who have demonstrated the ability to win and pitch deep into games; no-longer-unheralded second baseman Robert Andino, a mostly solid defensive player who has become an offensive force (ask the Red Sox); or the "other" J.J., Jim Johnson, who is working on an impressive set of statistics as the Orioles' designated finisher (we like that term better than closer around here).
But as good as that group has been, it's still been a nice supporting cast for Jones, who has a Gold Glove, All-Star Game selection and the aforementioned MVO on his resume -- and is now in the midst of what could easily be his best year yet. It seems every home run produces either a tying or go-ahead run -- along with a win.
In addition, Jones' maturity is showing up daily on defense, as his strong and accurate arm not only deters base runners, but also has consistently found the cutoff man whenever necessary. All indications are that Jones' maturity has caught up with his ability.
One-quarter of the way through the season, there is no question who has been the MVO. A.J. is the man.
By Matt Palmer
This is an easy one. Without Adam Jones, the Orioles wouldn't be where they are.
I always thought, perhaps wrongfully, that Jones was the type of player that would push a great team into extraordinary.
He's taking a below-average team this season and pushing them to good status and, if this season pans out with the Orioles still competing in August, almost great. The Orioles are on top of the American League East because Jones feels the moment and takes it. He's batting a career-high .307 with a .351 on-base percentage, has 23 extra-base hits and 14 home runs. He's seventh in the American League in RBIs and third in home runs.
Jones, not known for being a base stealer during his career, also has six.
Although he's not Josh Hamilton, Jones is becoming an upper-echelon player at a time when the Orioles need it the most. He's a star and as baseball fans and writers scramble to make sense of what the team is doing so far, Jones' play draws them to Baltimore. Matt Wieters is one of the best catchers in baseball now, but Jones is the Orioles' first real star since Cal Ripken. He is likely headed to his second All-Star Game and could get his second Gold Glove, too. Jones has shown a willingness to go after home runs at the risk of his own body, as he did in Washington during the weekend.
He's not Ken Griffey Jr. out there, but who is? Jones is becoming great and helping make the Orioles relevant.
It's not a surprise that so much of the talk surrounding Jones is about his contract, which runs out after next season. The Orioles sought Jones four years ago because of his talent and potential. That potential is being scratched and you get the feeling there's even more on the horizon.
Jones is not only the team's MVP, but if the Orioles stay in the hunt, he could be in contention for league MVP, too.
The Orioles are going to have to pay him as if he's an MVP, sooner rather than later.
Posted May 22, 2012