Orioles' decision to bench Adam Jones sets up awkward final weeks of season

Orioles outfielder Adam Jones sat in all three games of this past weekend’s series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, marking the first time Jones didn’t have a choice whether he’d play since he put on an Orioles uniform.

The Orioles’ company line is that Jones is being benched because the team needs to get a look at other outfielders to assess where they might fit for next year. It’s an opportunity to give important innings to players who could be part of the team’s rebuild. Take that for what it’s worth, but regardless of the reason, it sets the stage for an awkward remaining three weeks of the season between the team and its longest-tenured player.

Jones is one of the best players to put on an Orioles uniform — he will one day join the Orioles’ Hall of Fame — and he’s been one of the most consistent center fielders in the game.

There are only four players who have hit more than Jones’ 265 homers in an Orioles uniform, and all of them are favorites who in Baltimore are known simply by their first names: Cal, Eddie, Boog and Brooks. He’s sixth on the team’s all-time RBIs list and eighth in games played. Along the way, he’s gone to five All-Star Games, has won four Gold Glove Awards and has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars locally off the field.

Because he’s been a contributor for so long — he was a part of those 14 straight losing seasons and the club’s resurgence — as well as how invested he’s been in the community, fans can connect with Jones. He’s been through it all, just like they have.

Jones will likely be in the starting lineup Tuesday when the Orioles open their nine-game homestand against the Oakland Athletics, and there’s probably a reason he was benched on the road and not at Camden Yards. But it’s unclear if he will play throughout the homestand. There are few guarantees coming out of the warehouse these days.

But if the Orioles believed their fan base would react positively to sitting Jones, they’re probably wrong. That’s because Orioles fans aren’t dumb. They know this looks personal, that benching Jones in his final weeks as an Oriole is a punishment for Jones vetoing a potential trade to the Philadelphia Phillies at July’s nonwaiver trade deadline.

Jones had every right to enact the trade veto power he had given to him by his service time — and it’s important that he has that right — but simply because he put a wrench in the team’s rebuilding plans, he had to expect some kind of brush back. At least now, it’s clear the Orioles don’t have long-term plans for Jones, so he believed the Orioles would celebrate him going out the door. He was mistaken.

No matter what, you can never completely control how you go out, and perception is always a part of it.

But given the auditions the Orioles are giving, it’s hard to sell that outfielder John Andreoli deserves to play over Jones. Before Jones was benched, he had plenty of opportunities to play. And while it seems Joey Rickard is taking advantage of his playing time, he in his third year with the club. If the Orioles still need to evaluate him, there’s a bigger problem here.

Andreoli played left field the first two games in Tampa Bay. He was 8-for-38, hitting .211 going into the series. In the two games, he was 1-for-6 with five strikeouts before sitting Sunday. It’s not to say taking a risk on players like Andreoli isn’t wise — the Orioles realize that uncovering hidden gems is something they have to do to compete in the American League East — but September shouldn’t be a completely open tryout.

As for Rickard, he’s made 168 starts for the Orioles over the past three years, and for most of this year was below veteran Craig Gentry in the team’s outfield pecking order. The Orioles released Gentry when they realized they couldn’t trade him.

It would be different if the Orioles were calling up outfield prospects from their farm system. If they wanted to get a glimpse of former first-rounder DJ Stewart in right field or give extended time to Austin Hays — and there are clear reasons not to since Stewart has struggled and Hays is coming off a nagging ankle issue — it would be more acceptable, but that’s not the case.

The Orioles couldn’t control being able to trade Jones, but they can control whether to put his name in the starting lineup every day.

Since Cedric Mullins arrived to be groomed to be the team’s next center fielder, and Jones accepted the shift from center and the role of mentoring Mullins, the script quickly flipped. How can Jones mentor Mullins when he’s not on the field?

Jones was graceful talking about the situation before Saturday’s game, saying he knows it’s important to see younger players because the innings are valuable. But he also said that he didn’t quite understand where the direction of the team was going or what the club’s plans for him for the next three weeks were.

He’s not the only one.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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