Have the Baltimore Orioles already blown it with center fielder Adam Jones?
Not if they grant Jones a long-term extension, a possibility that the team has started to explore.
But if the Orioles fail to sign Jones, then try to trade him, they indeed could be in a bind.
Jones, 26, agreed to a one-year, $6.15 contract Tuesday night, avoiding arbitration. He is eligible for arbitration one more time before hitting the free-agent market.
For Jones to agree to an extension, the Orioles would need to offer him at least five years, according to major-league sources.
And if such a deal is to occur, it probably would behoove the Orioles to get it done before Opening Day.
Another losing season would be Jones’ fifth straight in Baltimore and the Orioles’ 15th straight overall. At that point, Jones would be one year away from free agency and less likely to sign long-term.
The Orioles might be reluctant to invest too heavily in a player with a .319 career on-base percentage and 101 OPS-plus (100 is average). Jones’ defense, according to advanced metrics, is below-average.
Still, Jones’ OPS-plus is rising (while his OBP is falling). Most teams consider him an asset; the Atlanta Braves discussed Jones with the Orioles this offseason and other clubs also inquired, sources say.
The Orioles could trade Jones this summer if their talks with him sputter and the team falls out of contention. But the off-season, when teams have greater roster and payroll flexibility, generally is the best time to move a position player.
Any attempt to trade Jones next offseason, however, would be complicated by the potential availability of three center fielders on the free-agent market – the Braves’ Michael Bourn, Tampa Bay Rays’ B.J. Upton and Philadelphia Phillies’ Shane Victorino.
The Orioles could wait until the summer of ’13 to move Jones, but by then his value would be even more depressed – he would be only months away from free agency.
Jones is eligible to hit the market at the same time as the Boston Red Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury and New York Yankees’ Curtis Granderson. But he is almost 41/2 years younger than Granderson, who will play the first season of his next contract at 33. And at this point, the best guess on Ellsbury is that the Red Sox cannot afford to lose him.
The Orioles drew criticism for failing to exploit the value of right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, whom they traded to the Colorado Rockies for righties Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.
Guthrie’s value dropped as he entered his final year of arbitration. The Orioles would risk a similar outcome if they delayed acting on Jones.