The 26-year-old former Gold Glove center fielder and 2009 All Star is under the Orioles’ control for two more years. He has emerged as one of two primary cornerstones of the team – along with 2011 All Star Matt Wieters.
So what’s going to happen?
I’ve been told that the Orioles, who signed Endy Chavez last week to be a fourth outfielder, are still looking for another outfielder and are fairly confident they will land one – and maybe soon. And that sentence surely will lead to further speculation that Jones is on his way out.
But the Orioles have a hole at designated hitter, and so they can easily make room for another outfielder – use Nolan Reimold at DH on occasion, rest Jones, Markakis, etc. So adding another outfielder doesn’t automatically mean Jones is on his way out, as some have speculated.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has made a point of saying he wants to build around Jones. But he also has made no one untouchable. And for the right deal, you can assume Jones could be had.
So what’s the right deal?
Well it wasn’t Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens, Martin Prado and a minor league pitching prospect. That seems like a strong haul considering Jurrjens, a right-hander who turns 26 this month, is 50-33 with a 3.40 ERA in his career. But he’s dealt with injuries the past two years and his durability is a question.
Prado, a 28-year-old infielder/outfielder is a perfect fit for the Orioles in that he can play second base or left field – the club’s two biggest question marks – hits for average and is well thought of for his drive and attitude.
But the Orioles weren’t overly intrigued by that package and reportedly wanted two of the Braves’ top pitching prospects in addition to Prado and Jurrjens, and the Braves understandably balked. Not sure if that is 100 percent true, but something made those talks lose traction.
Here’s what I know: The Orioles want a frontline starter for Jones. Or someone with the substantial upside to be a frontline starter. A name that intrigues the Orioles – heck, that intrigues everyone in baseball – is the Braves’ 25-year-old right-hander Tommy Hanson.
He dealt with some shoulder/back problems last year but is one of the best young pitchers in the game. That’s also the reason the Braves likely wouldn’t move him, for Jones or likely anyone else. If Hanson is obtainable, though, so is Jones. Regardless, Atlanta has plenty of good young pitching, so they remain an obvious trade partner. But I’d be surprised if Jurrjens was the centerpiece.
It’s not outlandish to think the Orioles and Jones agree to a long-term deal either. He is eligible for his second year of arbitration this winter, and this would be the time to do it – sides exchange figures in two weeks and then try to reach a settlement before a hearing. And that’s often when common ground in a long-term deal is discussed. My sense is that once the 2012 season is over with, Jones would be a lot more hesitant to talk a long-term deal heading into a walk year.
Personally, I’ve been torn on the “Trade/Keep Jones” dilemma. I know there are some metrics out there that show Jones’ upside is waning. But the maturation I saw from this guy in the past year can’t be measured by statistics. Yes, he still has some flaws, but he cleaned up several parts of his game in 2011. He was better defensively than he was the year before and had a better approach at the plate. And I think he is primed for a huge 2012.
More important, this guy seemed to come into his own in the clubhouse. He really seems to get the game now and his role in it. He and Nick Markakis became much closer in 2011, and I think Jones became more comfortable in being a focus of the team and the media. I think he really understood how his actions and his words are monitored and he seemed to use his drive and passion more for good in 2011 – if that makes any sense.
Sure, he’ll occasionally flip his helmet after making an out and he still curses in every other post-game interview, but that just makes me laugh when the TV people cringe.
All that said, trading Jones is probably the one singular move that can make the Orioles exponentially better in 2012 and the future. He and Wieters are the only players on the club’s current roster that can be viewed as impact trade pieces and Wieters is under team control through the 2015 season.
Trading Jones would be like kicking off the training wheels on the club’s rebuilding effort. And the upcoming ride would be exceptionally shaky. But this team hasn’t dealt away a budding star with upside in the recent past (maybe Erik Bedard) and that’s the true blueprint for rebuilding.
It’s a tough call – and one that could define Duquette’s Orioles’ regime. One thing is for sure: If he deals away Jones, he better be sure he gets granite-solid, building blocks in return.