Several years ago, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones called on the organization to start being more aggressive in keeping its own players once they hit free agency. Recent history illustrates that has been heeded, but now Jones has another call to above: improve the level of athleticism when it comes to outfield defense.
While improving the outfield defensively has been a stated goal of executive vice president Dan Duquette all offseason, and the team took outfielder Aneury Tavarez in the Rule 5 draft toward that end, Jones made a stand at FanFest on Saturday, proclaiming that it hasn't been enough.
While Joey Rickard has the speed to be a defensive asset, the rest of the group — Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith and Hyun Soo Kim — doesn't have the type of defenders Jones thinks the team needs.
"We don't need more offense," Jones said. "I think we need to improve the outfield defense. And people are always going to say pitching, pitching, pitching, but I think we've got some damn good pitchers right now. They're young, but they're maturing. [Kevin] Gausman turned a page. [Dylan] Bundy increased his innings. I think we've got pretty good starting pitching. I think we just need to improve defensively in the outfield, just get more speed, more athleticism out there. …
"It's going to be hard. These guys aren't necessarily known for their defense. We don't have a strikeout pitching staff, so our defense is used quite a bit. You see how our infield defense is unbelievable. We're still competitive in the outfield, but we just need to get a little bit more athletic out there in my point of view. I've been out there for a while. I've seen the changes. Those are just a little bit of my ideas."
Defense is a particularly sore spot for Jones, who despite being rated by his peers as one of the best center fielders in the game is often dinged by advanced metrics for his range. Last year, Jones' ratings were impacted by where he was set up, some of which was done to accommodate the players on either side of him.
Last year, the Orioles' outfield defense was rated the worst in baseball, with a cumulative ultimate zone runs per 150 games (UZR/150) of minus-11.2, according to FanGraphs. That statistic measures the value of a batted ball into a particular spot, and credits or debits the fielder based on whether it's caught or not. That means last year, the Orioles' outfield defense cost them 11 total runs. The outfield also had a major league-worst minus-51 defensive runs saved (DRS).
It's unclear who will play on either side of Jones this year, with Smith vying for time in right field that Trumbo might have gotten last year, plus Kim more of an established player. Rickard could be a defensive replacement when he's not in the lineup. But as it stands, it's unclear whether there will be an addition to that group.
Manager Buck Showalter, when asked about additions to the corner spots, said the Orioles have evaluating of their own players and questioned what a speed-and-defense outfielder really was. Duquette cited Tavarez as an addition on that front, but said improvement isn't synonymous with addition.
"Beyond that, I think there's some things that we can do to make our outfield defense better," Duquette said. "There's ways that you can measure that defense more precisely now. There's some tools out there, and I think that's one area where the 2017 club can look to improve over 2016."
That sentiment, when relayed to Jones, wasn't met fondly.
"I don't necessarily buy that idea," Jones said. "Sometimes, athletic personnel does help. You can play where you want, but if you don't have the guys to get to a certain spot, it doesn't matter. It's basically saying you can plug anything in an equation and get an answer. Me and you can play in the exact same spot and our reaction would be different. That goes for anyone around baseball. I would say just get more athletic guys, not saying that Trumbo and Seth Smith aren't athletic. They're very good athletes, but they're not top-of-the-line defensive players first."