Now that the Orioles have committed to rebuilding and done most of their heavy lifting ahead of the nonwaiver trade deadline, everybody ought to take a breath and consider what really needs to happen next.
Here’s a thought: The Orioles and Adam Jones need to get real and figure something out that keeps him around for a couple more years.
It is widely assumed that the Orioles will deal Jones by the deadline because he’s going to become a free agent at the end of the season. That’s certainly a strong possibility if he’s willing to waive his no-trade protection, but it doesn’t have to go down that way.
Jones has been a fixture in Baltimore for a lot of reasons, not just the numbers on the back of his baseball card. He has become a major figure in the community and was a de facto team captain when a lot of players his age were still worrying about the sophomore jinx.
He hasn’t said a lot on the subject, but it’s pretty obvious he feels that kind of stuff should matter when it comes time to talk contract. He has invested a lot in this area — in charitable work and even in a high-profile piece of real estate recently — so he can be forgiven for feeling like the Orioles should’ve made him more of a priority before this season turned sharply south and forced the organization into a rebuilding mode.
Now, the front office seems totally focused on a major roster renovation that will likely keep Jones embroiled in trade speculation through the Aug. 31 deadline for traded players to be eligible for their new teams’ postseason rosters.
That’s why it might be fair to assume Jones will be playing meaningful games for some contending team in September, but it’s not necessarily fair to assume that would be the best thing for the long-term interests of the Orioles franchise.
This is where it’s about getting real. Jones is not going to generate the kind of return in young talent the Orioles received in the deals that sent superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers and closer Zach Britton to the New York Yankees. He’s an older player (he turns 33 on Wednesday) and has publicly conceded that he’s in a different situation than either of those two former teammates.
That realization should make him amenable to a two- or three-year extension at a price that reflects both his situation and Major League Baseball’s current economic environment. He has to know he’s not going to roll over this year’s $17.3 million salary and he should understand that, come free agency, he’s likely to be more valuable to the Orioles than any other team.
The Orioles should see that, too. Dan Duquette might suddenly be willing to send all the veteran players packing to build his (or whoever’s) next-generation contender, but he can’t disregard that the team has been bleeding attendance for the past several years.
The fans still need some familiar faces to hang their hearts on and Jones is the face of the franchise. He’s also still a productive player whose leadership could benefit the parade of young players who are headed for the Orioles clubhouse.
“Adam is a guy who kind of fits for all occasions,’’ manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s also smart. He understands reality. As much as he has a take on everything, when push comes to shove he makes some pretty sound decisions. He’s just got a competitive spirit.”
Jones also has a lot of pride. You don’t get where he is without that, which is why he spent several months curtly answering questions about his contract situation with three words — “Ask Dan Duquette.”
“There comes a time in the near future when you’ve got to show your cards,’’ Showalter said. “I’m talking about the rest of his career, so to speak. Let’s see where that takes us. … What happens between now and next year is too far off for me.”
What will probably happen? The Orioles likely will try to deal Jones for a prospect or two and hope he’ll waive his 10-and-5 trade protection (10 years of major league service time and five straight with the same team), which would not prevent the club from trying to bring him back when he becomes a free agent this winter.
Of course, if there is any desire on the part of the club to re-sign him, why leave it to chance?
The fans might be ready for a rebuild, but they’re not ready to say goodbye to all their favorite players. That much was apparent when Showalter and Duquette held their annual “State of the Orioles” question-and-answer session with season ticket holders Saturday afternoon.
Recent reports of trade talks involving younger veterans Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman might be exaggerated, but they’re still unsettling. Duquette tried to calm those fears, but holding onto Jones would go a long way toward keeping the fans on board for what could be a challenging next few seasons.