Orioles center fielder Adam Jones knows that the next few weeks, and then the next few months, will bring experiences he's never had in a 13-year big league career.
It's been a while since he had to play out the string in a lost season, but there's also the matter of a possible trade away from the Orioles before the July 31 nonwaiver deadline, the looming free agency that will allow Jones to test the market for the first time and the chance that, even if he sticks around Baltimore long term, someone else will be playing his position in center field.
Jones, batting .281 with 10 home runs to put him en route to another in a string of consistent seasons, doesn't want anything to change about his approach.
But he's acknowledging the idea that prospect Cedric Mullins is looming in the Orioles farm system as a possible long-term center fielder. Jones knows that "Mullins is knocking on the door, as he should be" at age 23, but is cautious not to hand over the position entirely to a player the organization is tempted to add to the roster.
"I think he definitely is going to be a center fielder here in the future," Jones said. "Is it toward the end of this year? Is it Aug. 1 if a trade happens? Is it Sept. 1 when rosters expand? Who knows? Myself and [manager] Buck [Showalter] would definitely have to talk about that, because I've earned the right to be able to have that discussion. So, at the same time, anybody who knows me knows that I'm a team guy and at the end of the day, I want to win."
Should Jones, 32, stick around, he seemed to indicate there would be opportunities between days off for him to break Mullins in slowly. But he also knows that the Orioles' focus won't be as much on winning, instead looking toward the future — one that may or may not involve him.
"You can tell how the season is going, the second half of the season is definitely going to be a transitional period for, I'm sure, two or three guys to really get their feet wet in the major leagues," Jones said. "When you're not in the race, that's a good time to see what you have. I've seen Mullins play in center. I've seen him play in spring training, got to talk to him a lot. His locker was next to me. It was great to be able to understand his mind, see his work ethic. I've followed him last year, and I'm following him this year. He's playing terrific. I just want him to get his opportunity. And if it's not in center field immediately when he gets called up here, then it'll be next year if I'm not here, or if I am back here at another position."
Jones has long targeted his next contract as an opportunity to move to a less demanding defensive position, a switch that the game might ask of him anyway. Jones’ defensive metrics have declined in every season, with his minus-18 defensive runs saved and minus-19.3 UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating, which takes into account range, arm strength, errors and double plays to measure a player's defensive worth in runs for or against his team) ranking 19th and 20th respectively, among qualifying center fielders, according to FanGraphs.
If he's traded, he said, he's "sure that teams that I can just think of that are in the playoff run all have center fielders except for Cleveland and Seattle — daily center fielders I should say — but honestly, who knows?"
"I'm a baseball player, but I look around and see what other teams have," Jones said. "It's hard to put myself in that position, in those situations, because I've never done it before. It's weird to speak on hypotheticals, as opposed to guys who have been traded and have had rumors around them. I've never had rumors around me to be traded before. It's all new territory that's educational, so to speak."
What he knows is that wherever he plays, and at whatever position, he needs to keep his routine as steady as possible so that he can ride the relative success he's had this season. He again cited the idea that he could get dealt to a contender and return, the way New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman did after being traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2016, but couldn't say whether a trade from the team he's played for since 2008 would influence whether he’d come back in free agency.
"Legacy is important not just to myself, to my family, to my kids, to my friends, to the community," Jones said. "To the community, as I've gotten older, it's easy to see that it's bigger than the game of baseball. The result of the game, obviously, dictates some people's moods. But it's a lot more to this game, and what I do mean to this area and this community is pretty awesome, in terms of having kids look up to me, in how I play the game on the field, and how many kids and adults and people in general look up to me in terms of how I give back to the community. There's just multiple facets that go through my mind, and being here, I've gotten a lot done.
“There's a lot still to be done. There's a lot in the works. But it helps being here, to accomplish those things. It's hard to be somewhere else to accomplish those things in the city. It's just hard to really dictate and understand and know what the future holds. Who knows? I personally don't know. I don't know.”