Both in his public Q&A with Orioles fans and his media session Saturday at FanFest, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias spoke warmly of the impact that longtime outfielder Adam Jones has had on the team he inherited and the city itself.
In the process, he said the idea of bringing him back wasn't a "dead issue," continuing the practice that started at the winter meetings of leaving the door a crack open by lumping Jones in with the rest of the 130-something free agents that don't have 2019 contracts yet.
But considering the Orioles and Elias haven't dipped into the major league free agent market at all yet, have said publicly they don't expect any multi-year contracts, and at the winter meetings said the ability to trade a free agent they sign for future value would be a factor in their market evaluations, there's not a lot that points to the reunion that many Orioles fans are seeking coming to fruition.
Jones, 33, remains on the free agent market after his contract with the Orioles expired with much fanfare last September. The team's last home game was a celebration of his time in an Orioles uniform, with Jones getting a sentimental start in center field before ceding to Cedric Mullins and moving to right field for the rest of the game, and being pulled in the ninth inning to a standing ovation.
At the time, the finality of the day itself made a reunion pretty unlikely, and nothing that's happened since has changed that. Elias and new manager Brandon Hyde have brought in a focus on developing young talent over all else, and nowhere else on the Orioles' roster does that exist than in the outfield.
Mullins took over as the everyday center fielder last year, and will reprise that role in 2019. Just as then-top prospect Austin Hays did in 2017, DJ Stewart came up to the majors in mid-September last year and staked an early claim to a right field role. Both will be competing for that spot in spring training.
Factor in Trey Mancini's likely left field role and Joey Rickard's continued presence (and the fact that he had the same rate stats in 2018 as Mancini), and with Yusniel Díaz, Ryan McKenna, and Mike Yastrzemski in major league camp and set for the high minors, the Orioles aren't lacking outfielders at all.
There's a reason almost every roster move the Orioles have made this year was to add infield depth and relievers. That's where the most glaring need is, and it's not as if the team is hurting for money, but Elias and company have said the focus and resources would go toward building their player development machine until the major league roster was ready to be supplemented with free agents.
Combine that with the fact that Jones' vested no-trade rights that come from 10 years in the majors and five with the same team wouldn't be erased if he returned to the Orioles from free agency, and the Orioles could find themselves in a similar situation as last July when Jones declined a trade.
That was his right then, and it'd be his right going forward if he stayed with the Orioles. Considering how Jones cited his respect for those in the MLB Players' Association to earn those rights and has generally been an advocate for the players' side in this equation, that sentiment would probably extend to being opposed to taking a discount and impacting the market for the rest of the league.
Jones has a lot more baseball left, and there's been interest from around the league in his services this year. Few places are more invested about where he lands than Baltimore, but nothing has indicated to this point that that's where he'll suit up in 2019.