Only pitchers and catchers were required to report to Orioles spring training at Ed Smith Stadium on Tuesday, yet the idea that this camp may be the first in a decade where Adam Jones won't be taking a prominent role in the happenings in Sarasota is hard for many of his former teammates to fathom.
The veteran outfielder, who reached free agency this offseason after what was widely acknowledged as his farewell game in Baltimore in last year's season finale, remains on the market amid another year of deflated interest in the free agent class. Top stars like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, plus former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, closer Craig Kimbrel, and super-utility man Marwin González, all remain on the market, too.
But Jones, who manned center field for the Orioles from 2008 until he ceded the position to Cedric Mullins in August, remains someone both Orioles players and fans are focused on in another slow offseason.
"Unfortunately, it's where we're at," outfielder/designated hitter Mark Trumbo said. "You'd think somebody with that kind of bulk and track record, especially with how much he brings in addition to the baseball side of it — it is kind of hard to wrap your head around this few opportunities. You hope for the best with everybody, and hope that if teams are not showing their hand yet, that you can give these guys a fighting chance to get a good spring camp in and hit the ground running, as opposed to waiting until you have a very small window to prepare."
Nothing about the Orioles’ offseason to this point under new executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has lent itself to the idea of a reunion with Jones. Right-hander Nate Karns was the only major league free agent they signed, and while the club has added several infielders on waivers, the major league outfield group has remained largely stagnant.
With Trey Mancini presumably in left field again, the group of Mullins, Austin Hays, DJ Stewart, Anthony Santander, and Joey Rickard may be trusted to fill out center field and right field. With top prospects Yusniel Díaz and Ryan McKenna also in major league camp looking to make an impression, the Orioles have plenty of options in the outfield to start making good on their vow to build from within and develop a strong young core similar to what Jones was a part of a decade ago.
Even so, Jones spent most of his time in Baltimore being one of the most consistent players in baseball. He won three Gold Gloves from 2012-2014, hit at least 25 home runs every year from 2011 to 2017, and has never had his OPS drop below .700 in a full season.
That's all in addition to what made him such a fixture in Baltimore, with his contributions both leading the clubhouse while the team contended and stabilizing it as things fell apart last season.
"Everything went so wrong, but he was the same guy," catcher Austin Wynns said. "That didn't beat him up or beat him down. He was still the same guy, win or lose. That's what you've got to bring, too. That shows the type of character or mindset, to go about your business. You want to go about it win or lose, you come off the field and leave the clubhouse the same person. Don't let it dwell. He was like that all the time."
"Adam is an extremely consistent player, in my opinion," left-hander Richard Bleier said. "He's a good defender, and just a really consistent hitter. Then to top all that off, he brings so much value in the clubhouse to everyone, really. He can relate to everyone. He was really great to me when I first got called up, and helped me out a lot. A lot of guys are nice and all that, but he really took the time to get to know me, which I really appreciated. There's definitely value in that in my opinion, and it's definitely crazy to see that someone like him is still looking for a job.”
Wynns agreed, and said it's clear what a team that picks him up will be getting, having spent most of last year observing Jones.
"It's wild to think that [he's unsigned] still, and he's going to get picked up — we don't know when, where. But he's a guy that's definitely missed here. What he brings, not only here but off the field, too — no one does that as much as him. He is a one-of-a-kind, true, great human being. That's what you want to be, too. But he's definitely missed."