Over the course of the Orioles’ disastrous 2018 season, it became increasingly apparent that cornerstone center fielder and de facto team captain Adam Jones was destined to become a free agent.
In the end, there was no one around to prevent it.
Jones and every other player eligible for auction on the open market this winter officially entered that market on Monday, though players cannot sign with new teams until five days after the end of the World Series.
Their original teams get that exclusive window to make final overtures to players they want to retain, but it’s almost unheard of for any player who has come this far to forgo the opportunity to find out what he’s really worth.
Jones said at Orioles Fanfest way back in January that he was looking forward to seeing who might pursue him if the Orioles didn’t. Now, he’ll get to find out.
If that was just an early attempt at public negotiation, it did not have the desired effect. The Orioles made no serious attempt to extend his expiring contract during the season and now the front office is in a holding pattern while ownership decides who to put in permanent charge of baseball operations.
There was always a case to be made for keeping Jones around during the rebuild, but the Orioles also need to open up playing time for the next generation of young outfielders.
Where he will end up is anyone’s guess. He vetoed a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies while they were still in playoff contention because he felt they would not keep him in a full-time role, so it’s fair to assume he’ll hold out for a team that will promise him 140-plus games in right field or center.
He might be waiting awhile regardless if baseball owners double down on last year’s apparent free agent freeze and keep the bulk of the available veteran players at arm’s length until very late in this offseason.
Perhaps the possibility exists that the incoming GM — whoever that might be — will want more of a veteran presence on the developing roster, but it appears that the direction of the club was set when ownership allowed now-departed baseball operations chief Dan Duquette to oversee the midseason tear down and choose the young players the O’s got in return for their established stars.
Nationally, there will be much more interest in Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, of course, but they also could find themselves waiting until January to see if they can fulfill years of predictions that they will both stretch the top end of baseball’s salary scale.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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