It’s been widely reported that Adam Jones exercised his 10-and-5 rights to veto a trade that would’ve sent him from Baltimore to the Phillies shortly before the non-waiver trade deadline, and Jones publicly confirmed as much in an interview with Sara Perlman of MASNsports.com on Facebook Live today (video link). Asked about the decision to do so, Jones gave a thoughtful and elaborate response:
“It just wasn’t right for me. I was playing center field at the time, and they wanted me to go play right field and platoon. That was the situation there, and it’s understandable. That’s how their roster was constructed, and that’s National League ball — double-switch and all that kind of stuff. … It wasn’t the right move for me, especially going into free agency. I’m not going into free agency looking like I’m [Nolan] Arenado, [Manny] Machado or [Bryce] Harper — obviously not — but I want to continue to create and maintain my stock. Going there to platoon, obviously in a good environment, a winning environment, would’ve hurt me in the long run. If I was 36, 37, a little older and toward the end of it all, of course — that would’ve been a very ideal and smart move, because it’d make sense. … I wish the Phillies the best, because I believe they have a really good team.”
Jones went on to discuss his upcoming foray into free agency — the first time at any point in his career that he’ll hit the open market. While he stated at multiple times that his preference is to play center field, he ultimately acknowledged, “Whoever wants me to run around [in the outfield] for them, whether it’s center, right, left, I could care less. I just want to play.”
The defensive alignment may or may not prove to be a deciding factor for Jones, but it’ll be a definite factor in which clubs opt to pursue the 33-year-old and in the types of offers he receives. Defensive metrics have been harsh on Jones’ work in center field for the past few seasons, and his right-field work hasn’t generated favorable reviews, either (-7 Defensive Runs Saved, -2.6 Ultimate Zone Rating in 210 innings). Jones notes that changing positions midseason has been more difficult than having a full offseason and Spring Training to get used to the different angles and reads that come with the move, though, and voices confidence that he could adjust in 2019 and beyond if need be.
Asked about his priorities in free agency, Jones said he “for sure” wants to sign with a winning club that can provide the “opportunity to play for something special.” That would seem to take the rebuilding Orioles largely out of the picture, making it increasingly likely that the O’s will go with a youthful outfield mix into 2019. While they club could add a veteran bridge at some point, prospects like Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart figure to have ample opportunity to win playing time for themselves next year.
As for Jones himself, he’ll head into free agency at a difficult time. While he was a star-caliber player from 2012-15, his 2018 season hasn’t approached those heights. He’s hitting .285/.316/.427 thus far, giving him a roughly league-average batting line while trying to adapt to a new outfield slot. There’s some reason for optimism that his offense can rebound, as his strikeout rate is a career-low 15.1 percent after tonight’s game, and his exit velocity in 2018 is actually considerably higher than it was in 2017 (86.6 mph vs. 88 mph). Similarly, Statcast credits Jones with a 2.5 percent increase in his hard-contact rate.
But Jones will also be older than many of his free-agent peers — he’ll turn 34 next August — and he’ll hit free agency at a time when corner bats have struggled to generate significant interest both in trades and in free agency. Corner outfielders with shakier defensive reputations simply haven’t commanded significant investments unless they come with elite bats, which isn’t the case for Jones. He’ll also be part of a crowded group of outfielders, with Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Michael Brantley, Andrew McCutchen and Nick Markakis among the names hitting free agency.
On top of that, free agency in general was a brutal reality check for many players last season, as the market yielded very few contracts that would’ve aligned with historically-based expectations. Among the second tier of outfielders last winter, veterans like Jon Jay ($3MM) and Carlos Gonzalez ($5MM) each settled for fairly disappointing one-year deals, though Jay Bruce still managed to get a contract that generally aligned with expectations (three years, $39MM). The very fact that multiple clubs tried to trade for Jones this past July is indicative that he’ll surely generate interest — but it probably won’t be at the price point most would’ve expected a few years ago.