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Zimmerman Contract Should Push Orioles

By Stan "The Fan" Charles

You don't lose for 14 consecutive seasons, like Baltimore's home team has done, if you have a lot of players worthy of long-term deals. Yet, while the Orioles' ownership has a litany of missteps on its hands, the one thing Peter Angelos has usually done -- with one, possibly two exceptions -- is extend the guys who deserve to be extended.

In 2005, Melvin Mora -- who batted .340 and drove in 104 RBIs during the 2004 season -- pushed to have face-to-face talks with Angelos in an attempt to get a lucrative contract extension. In 2009, the Birds took care of Brian Roberts with another lucrative contract that goes through 2013. That was followed in rapid succession with the news that Nick Markakis got a contract that would take him through 2014.

Just last summer, in Andy MacPhail's waning days in Birdland, he was able to sign J.J. Hardy to a three-year deal that will keep Hardy an Oriole through 2014.

The news during this past weekend that the Washington Nationals have inked third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to a six-year extension, to go along with the existing two years (including a full no-trade clause), means that Zimmerman will be a National through 2019. Including the two remaining seasons, and the six new years, the deal will net Zimmerman close to $130 million.

The deal also made a statement that the Nationals appreciate Zimmerman and want him as the face of the franchise. For team owners, it takes guts, and it takes a willingness to validate what your eyeballs tell you.

Despite the aforementioned four players that Angelos has shown the money to, there have not been many names that have realistically beckoned the O's owner to lock down with big-money deals. The most noticeable player that the club could have tried to lock down, but chose not to, was starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. On the surface, Guthrie was the perfect guy to invest in -- he was clean living, handsome and smart, and while not exactly Brooks Robinson with the media, Guthrie almost politely tolerated us.

For various reasons, through the regimes of Jim Duquette and the late Mike Flanagan, Andy MacPhail and, most recently, Dan Duquette, there never was a bold move that said, "Hey, we have to have this guy for the next five years," and I'm not so sure any of those regimes were wrong on that one.

But one current player wearing Orioles livery deserves a full-court press in contract talks with the club -- Adam Jones, the center fielder and best player on the team. Time moves so quickly that it may amaze fans to think that Jones has been wearing No. 10 and blowing bubbles in Baltimore for four full seasons.

While Zimmerman is a bit more established, having played six full seasons, it's not an outrageous statement to say that two years from now, Jones' numbers may compare favorably with the Nats' third sacker. Zimmerman through six years has belted 128 home runs, knocked in 498 RBIs and batted a respectable .288.

During his four years as an Oriole, Jones had 72 homers and knocked in 279 runs, while batting a notch below Zimmerman at .278. Given that Jones has made strong strides in the power game, it seems fair to project Jones for a minimum of two 25-home-run seasons and two 90-RBI seasons. Personally, I think his power numbers during these next two seasons could be loftier.

Nobody can quite tell exactly where the Orioles are going. Will they sign Jones and Reynolds to industry contracts? Will the club aggressively pursue Matt Wieters to go with Hardy, Markakis, Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy and others to form the club's nucleus?

There were a few teams that tried to pry Jones away from the Orioles this offseason. But as Buck Showalter told to the media and fans at the winter meetings and then at Fan Fest: "We value Adam an awful lot. We're no just going to give him away."

No, they did not give him away. But, still despite his productivity, despite the fact that Jones has turned into a leader in the clubhouse and a gamer on the field, the Orioles have not made any intelligible sign of desire to extend Jones.

True, Jones is under club control for two more seasons, but this is where smart teams, without the resources of the true big-market clubs, make their play at getting value. By extending someone to a point where both sides win -- the club pays a premium, during the years left controlling Jones, while getting his free agent seasons for lesser dollars today than they would cost two years down the road.

Of course, there is a risk on the Orioles' part. Jones could get injured, or he could merely become something less than you perceived him to be. The Orioles owe there fans their best efforts to field a winning team. It's not that complicated to see that players like Jones can be special. When you get enough special players, keep them and you have a chance to become a special team.

There is no question that Jones isn't worth what the Nationals just paid Zimmerman. But, by waiting, the club takes another huge risk, one that is as clear as the nose on your face. Two years from now, Jones could easily command more dollars than Zimmerman somewhere else, and allowing it to get to that point is not smart baseball business.

Posted Feb. 28, 2012