The Aug. 31 deadline for traded players to be eligible for the postseason won’t generate nearly the suspense of the July 31 nonwaiver deadline, but once Jones cleared trade waivers earlier this month, it became another day for fans to sweat through their No. 10 jerseys.
Is it possible that Jones will be traded to a contending team that needs some help for the September stretch?
Sure it is.
Is it likely Jones would approve a trade after nixing the opportunity to head up I-95 to help the Philadelphia Phillies battle the Atlanta Braves for the National League East title and a chance to reach the World Series?
That’s a question only he can answer. But based on what he has said since the last deadline passed and — in particular — in a recent article in The New York Times, it still appears he wants to finish this season in Baltimore and is holding out hope the Orioles want him to come back for a few more years.
Jones, 33, doesn’t generally like to explain himself, but in the Times article he expanded on the reasons he wants to play out his Orioles contract and clearly seemed to be sending another message to the team’s ownership and front office — that he has unfinished business in the community and as part of the team’s rebuilding project.
He recently stepped aside for new center fielder Cedric Mullins and did it in a way that should help the rookie quickly acclimate to the major leagues. He moved to right field and also engineered a locker change for Mullins so they would be side by side in the Orioles clubhouse.
It’s that kind of team leadership the Orioles will sorely need while they navigate a multiyear transition to youth and test the loyalty of a fan base that has been shrinking for the past several years.
When Jones used his 10-and-5 no-trade rights — 10 years of service time and five straight years with the same team — to turn down the Phillies deal, the possibility of an extension seemed slim. Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette clearly was frustrated with Jones’ resistance to a deal that would have completed a dynamic midseason overhaul.
When pressed at the time about the possibility of Jones still being in Baltimore next year and beyond, Duquette's terse response seemed to be a clear signal that the team was moving in a different direction.
Since then, Jones’ position has shifted from defiant to conciliatory. It probably is not an accident that the Times article focused heavily on his charitable and social work in and around Baltimore, something he has long been reluctant to say much about to the local media.
If you recall, he was reluctant to acknowledge the donation he made to help fund a playoff trip for the Mamie Johnson Little League team — the first predominantly African-American team to win the D.C. championship and advance to the Mid-Atlantic regional. The Orioles public relations staff had to convince Jones to accept the positive publicity.
The Orioles know what Jones has meant to the franchise and the city, and there’s no reason the relationship has to end. The success of the rebuilding effort will not hinge on whether the Orioles have one more open outfield position next spring. It might, however, hinge on how well their young players develop at the major league level.
This franchise has not done a great job of developing young talent in recent years and it has reached a crossroads where the ability to do that will determine whether the Orioles become the next Houston Astros-type success story or lapse into another long-term competitive malaise like the one that preceded the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era.
Jones belongs here. He’s this era’s generational star and he’s too important to the fans and the community to just send him packing this winter for roster space. If a deal of reasonable salary and length can be reached, he should be around when the team rises again.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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