I am sure this has been the toughest stretch of Adam Jones' big league career. With Opening Day less than six weeks away, Jones remains unsigned. From a statistical standpoint, 2018 was Jones' worst full season since breaking in as a regular with the Orioles back in 2008. His 15 home runs and 63 RBIs were career lows as a full-time player for Baltimore.
It was bad timing just before his first-ever foray into free agency. The last time Jones put pen to a contract was in late May 2012, when he was still a season and a half away from qualifying for free agency. That contract kept Jones an Oriole from 2013-2018 and guaranteed him $85.5 million, then a club record.
Since then, only Chris Davis' seven-year, $161 million contract has exceeded Jones' deal. As bad as Davis has been the past three seasons, that was how well Jones' deal worked out for the Birds.
After signing his deal, Jones was a solid defender and a consistent contributor who you could pretty much pencil in for 27-30 homers, 85-90 RBIs and a batting average right around .280. Oh, and did I mention he was durable, playing in 632 of a possible 648 games from 2011-2014?
The only statistic that keeps Jones' G standing for good rather than great is a career on-base percentage of just .318. That mediocre OBP has been fueled by his lack of plate discipline. He's walked just 309 times and struck out 1,294 times during his career.
Where the Orioles got more than their money's worth was in the type of person they had around here for 11 seasons. Always a stand-up and opinionated guy in the clubhouse, it was his personality and leadership that allowed him to take a lot on his shoulders. It let the quieter and younger guys like Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Chris Tillman and Davis grow into one terrific core of a team.
They weren't held back from winning it all by anything other than the fact that the club's developmental pipeline didn't get it enough help when the team's collective salaries soared beyond the limits of a large small-market team.
But I digress. This column wasn't just meant to laud Adam Jones for a job well done. It was supposed to be about why he's still unemployed.
The only analogous situation I can really remember in Orioles history was a bitter parting of the ways between longtime catcher Rick Dempsey and the club after the late-season collapse in 1986. Then-GM Hank Peters made up his mind that Dempsey's skills had eroded to the point that a new everyday catcher was needed, and suddenly in came Terry Kennedy, acquired from the San Diego Padres for right-handed pitcher Storm Davis.
This isn't to compare the two players from a statistical standpoint, as Jones and Dempsey's values to the club went far beyond the numbers posted on the diamond. Like Jones, Dempsey was a leader in the clubhouse and immensely popular with the fans.
The similarity to the Jones situation was that Dempsey would've been welcomed back in 1987, but only if he agreed to a big dip in pay from the $600,000 he was scheduled to make on a club option. The Orioles offered him $250,000. If he were willing to accept that, he'd probably catch about 25-35 games rather than 130.
In time, as I recall, the Orioles upped the financial ante slightly, but not enough to keep Dempsey from going to the Cleveland Indians for $400,000. While '87 was a bust year for Dempsey in Cleveland, he did extract a measure of revenge upon his old club by signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers the following season for $250,000. He performed admirably in helping the Dodgers win World Series in 1988, the club's last championship.
Dempsey walked away from playing after a very brief stint with the Orioles during Camden Yards' first season in 1992. Needless to say, he now has been a fixture in Birdland under the regime of team owner Peter Angelos, doing pre- and postgame analysis with Tom Davis on MASN.
Where this dovetails so well with the Jones narrative is that the Orioles probably haven't wanted to really negotiate with Jones because they don't want to insult a local hero. I beat the drum for a Jones return for a while, but that ended when the Philadelphia Phillies signed outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal for $50 million guaranteed (the last $3 million is a buyout for a fourth season in Philly).
I remember thinking going into the offseason that a one-year, $8.5 million deal with an option sounded about right for Jones. To me, that level of commitment sounded about right for the Orioles, with the full understanding that Jones would now be looked upon more as a right fielder than center fielder and more of a 120-game player rather than 155-game player.
The McCutchen contract changed all that. At first when McCutchen signed, I thought Jones would be the happiest guy around. But as time dragged on, clearly more teams see him at the dollar value and term that I had foreseen than the false economy of the McCutchen deal.
One irony in all this is that McCutchen landed in Philadelphia. The Phillies and Orioles agreed on a deal last July that would have sent Jones to Philly with a chance not only to help save the Phillies' faltering playoff chances in 2018, but also perhaps to audition as a key, new piece for 2019 and beyond.
Jones rightly pointed out that his 10-and-5 status -- which allowed him to veto the deal -- was a right bargained for by the players' union.
What he may not have taken the time to assess was just how fluid his situation might become in Birdland and that Philly may have been his best chance to find a landing spot for the remainder of his career.
Now with the clock ticking toward Opening Day, Jones is probably looking at contracts and opportunities he feels are beneath him. I'd urge him to attach himself to a winning possibility and enjoy the ride. I know Rick Dempsey did, and it provided him the chance at another ring.
Now that's something Adam Jones should reach for.
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