On the same day Orioles manager Buck Showalter was set to impart some tough love at his annual offsite team-building event, center fielder and de facto captain Adam Jones delivered a little of his own in an impromptu session with reporters Sunday.
Showalter had telegraphed his message to the team the day before, warning that anyone who came to camp this spring with thin skin had come to the wrong place.
Jones laughed when he heard that.
“That doesn’t apply to me,’’ he said. “I got rhino skin.”
It soon became clear that Jones was on the same page as Showalter when it came to everyone taking a hard look at themselves after last year’s late-season collapse.
“This is professional baseball. … It’s not a day care,’’ he said. “We’re here for one reason. He’s not my father, he’s not my uncle. He’s my manager. Simple as that. We’re a team. We’re here for one reason and one reason only. And if you’re not here for that, bye. That’s the message. Thick skin, that’s the rhetoric, but his message is he’s here to win. Pretty simple.”
What was even clearer was that just about everyone around here needs to have rhino skin, including the front office. Jones is headed into the final year of his contract and he is coming to grips with the possibility that he — like teammates Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Brad Brach — might be playing somewhere else next season.
He waited until the end of that long interview session to deliver a haymaker.
The final question was about the importance of remaining in Baltimore after this season, and if you were waiting for the same stock answer that Machado and Jonathan Schoop gave about their uncertain contract sessions, you haven’t been paying attention.
He said some very nice things about his time in Baltimore and his role he has played in his adopted community, but he also laid down the priorities he would take into the free-agent market if the Orioles let him get there.
No. 1: He wants to win.
No. 2: See No. 1 and envision a big, gaudy ring on his finger.
In other words, he wants the Orioles to make an effort to keep their great players and get some more of them so they can have a realistic shot of playing in the World Series in the not-to-distant future.
For now, he wants everybody to be accountable for what happened last year and what needs to happen in 2018.
“We’ve got to win,” Jones said. “Have people out there that are committed to pounding the strike zone. Have hitters committed to having good at-bats. Have front office people who are committed to always trying to better the team. Have PR people who are committed to making our lives easier. It’s a full team. When we have success on the field, it’s not just the players, it’s a bigger scheme. So, I think we just need to get back to what we were.”
This is the second time he has given fair warning that he might not be here next season. He said last month during FanFest that he’s excited about the prospect of entering the free-agent market — if it comes to that. He added Sunday that he still hasn’t heard anything from the front office about a possible contract extension, and it’s obvious he’s too proud to beg.
Classic Adam. Remember when he said during spring training in 2015 that his status as the face of the franchise should entitle him to more input with ownership and the front office.
That got him some face time with owner Peter Angelos and — coincidentally or not — the Orioles made a much bigger play for their pending free agents, keeping Matt Wieters with a qualifying offer and re-signing Darren O’Day and Chris Davis to surprisingly large contracts.
This time, it’s not news to anyone that Jones would like an extension and wants the Orioles to keep their other star players. This is not the same team that he helped lead to the American League East title in 2014 and he’s at a much different stage in his career.
He’s still the face of the team, but that hasn’t led to serious negotiations aimed at keeping him in Baltimore for the long haul.
There’s still plenty of time for that, but Jones recognizes the risk that he’ll get lost in the shuffle — or simply timed out — if the Orioles push all their expiring and waning contracts into the next offseason.
He also is well aware of the possibility that a favorable midseason Machado trade could push the Orioles into a new youth movement and a full rebuild, especially if Dan Duquette’s tenure as baseball operations chief is coming to an end.
That doesn’t mean Jones’ recent comments about the possibility of playing elsewhere are just a big bluff, though it’s fair to read them that way. They also are a sign he’s in touch with the reality of his situation.
He’ll be 33 when his contract expires. He said Sunday that he hopes to play until he’s 40, but he has to know the window for getting that World Series ring isn’t open that wide.
Of course, that’s not likely to happen this season, with the club still scrambling to assemble an adequate starting rotation, so Job One is making sure that the Orioles don’t repeat what happened last year.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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