Adam Jones doesn’t mince words, and sitting at his corner locker inside the Orioles clubhouse at the Ed Smith Stadium complex on Sunday morning — the eve of the first full-squad workout of spring training — the Orioles’ longest-tenured player made it clear what will keep him in Baltimore beyond this season.
Jones will enter his 11th season with the Orioles this year, and he is eligible for free agency after the season, so for the first time in his career, he can choose where he plays. And even though he’s been one of the primary faces for the Orioles’ resurgence of three playoff berths over a five-year span, last year’s last-place finish was a marked regression.
He’s been in the game long enough to see many of his closest colleagues celebrate being on World Series title teams, and despite becoming one of the most accomplished individual players in Orioles history, winning a championship is something that’s eluded him.
So Jones insists his decision to remain in Baltimore will have less to do with how much money he is offered and more to do with the pieces built around him toward a title.
“My personal feelings: This is my career. This is not the fans’ career, so I’m going to make the best decision for myself and going forward, I want to win,” Jones said. “It’s not about money. I've got it. It’s winning. I’ve got a lot of friends with rings, hardware. My friend Cameron Maybin, he won a ring last year. My friend Quintin Berry got a ring. Dontrelle [Willis] got a ring. Edwin Jackson got a ring. I’ve got a bunch of friends with rings and I ain’t got no ring, so I want to play for something.”
The Orioles have yet to engage Jones on an extension — so Jones deferred talk about that to the club’s front office, as he did last month when he told reporters to “ask Dan Duquette” when asked about any progress on an extension. He responded the same way Sunday. Jones is one of the few players remaining who went through the doldrums of losing before the Orioles' resurgence, but coming off last year’s disappointing finish, Jones said, putting himself in a situation to win will take precedent as he gets older.
“I think for everybody, we’re all older, approaching contracts and all that kind of stuff,” Jones said. “It’s not an urgency for anybody. I think we want to win. I want to win. That’s probably the highest on my priority list. It’s not money, it’s winning, because [I’m] getting older. … Last year obviously wasn’t that fun, but the previous five years were fun because we were winning and going forward that’s all I want is to be in a position to win, and if I’m not, then I have to find a position to win.”
Jones has seen the business side of baseball. He saw longtime teammate Nick Markakis, another player who seemed destined to play out his career in an Orioles uniform, end up in Atlanta after the 2014 season. Jones was vocal in campaigning for the Orioles to retain its key free agents the following year — and the Orioles invested unprecedented money in keeping first baseman Chris Davis and reliever Darren O’Day.
Now, it’s nearly time to make a decision on a group of four pending free agents that the Orioles can’t possibly entirely keep intact. Third baseman-turned-shortstop Manny Machado could receive a deal that challenges Giancarlo Stanton’s record 10-year, $325 million contract, and relievers such as Zach Britton and Brad Brach have been rewarded handsomely in recent offseasons. But if there one player most likely to return, and the player most distinguishable as the modern-day Mr. Oriole — because of his longevity, consistency and commitment to the team and the community — it is Jones.
“It’s like I told Adam a long time ago, your best players have to play the game right and they have to do those things,” manager Buck Showalter said. “And having someone like Adam who knows firsthand what to do in those [situations] means on the scoreboard, it’s nice to have that. It seems like every year we lose [core players]. We lose J.J. … It’s hard to replace that part of it and that’s why the old song, ‘Who’s going to fill their shoes?’ ”
Jones lauded the organization for signing a veteran such as right-hander Andrew Cashner, calling him a “proven veteran,” and he realizes that the Orioles have found free-agent bargains in the past by waiting out the market since spring training.
“I’ve seen that strategy and it goes for a lot of other teams, too,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of free agents out there. You can’t just see that we’re missing out on a lot of other guys. There’s a significant amount of free agents that are still on the board and other teams have the opportunity to get them, also. We know what we need. Are we going to address it? I’m not front office. I’ll go with the Manny quote. I’m a baseball player. I’m not front office, I’m not an agent. I don’t got none of that information. But in here, we want to win. The players want to win. And that’s pretty much it.”
Jones did express concern about an offseason that left many players unsigned going into the first week of camp — and even though that could affect his market value if he eventually becomes a free agent next season — he said he was more concerned that there were many good players out there still without jobs.
“Do they want too much money?” Jones said. “I don’t know. I’m not privy to that information also, but I know there’s a lot of guys out there that can help every single team in baseball win, and they’re sitting at home. That’s what I don’t understand. It’s frustrating as a player, as a competitor, because you know there are guys around the league that can help your team or your foe, but guys that you know belong in the big leagues who belong with a job. Is it because of money? Is it just the market and people don’t want to overpay no more? … It’s alarming. You want to see your peers in positions of success. You want to see them with a job. You want to see them playing. It’s a little bit disheartening because most of the people you fought against throughout your career are at home right now when you know they can play.”
Even though the Orioles are predicted to have a 69-win last-place finish by the sabermetric forecasting tool PECOTA, the club has proved doubters wrong before. So now, Jones will wait, hoping the front office does enough to build a contender.
“I always will take the guys in my clubhouse, on my team, over anybody,” Jones said. “Me saying that means nothing. Now we have to go do [it]. It’s not rocket science. We do need pitchers. It’s not rocket science. I know that Dan has been very patient [in his way of garnering free agents], but there are still guys out there. Six weeks starting tomorrow in spring training. I’m always going to be optimistic that there can be some people are going to land in our hands. … We’ve got six weeks to figure it out. A lot of them guys that are are on the board are not going to stay on the board and forfeit a lot of money once March 29 starts.”