Andrew Stetka: Reaching a career crossroads, Jones’ legacy is secure

It feels like a yearly rite of passage for me at this point. Writing something about my admiration for Adam Jones has become commonplace. I guess in a way, I’m making fun of myself a bit for being so obsessed with the captain of the Orioles. But who can blame me at this point? He’s been a transcendental figure on and off the field for the team in an important era. In fact, he has kind of defined an entire era of this franchise.

Since signing a six-year extension with the Orioles as a 26-year-old in 2012, Jones has done everything necessary to be a leader and example of what it means to wear the black and orange. At the time, the $85.5 million deal was the largest in team history. It also kicked off a stretch of success for the O’s, leading to three playoff appearances in five years - including the 2014 AL East crown. Jones may have never been the most talented player on these Orioles teams, but he’s always been the most important.

Now in the final year of that contract that was so crucial at the time, Jones is at a crossroads. As the Orioles continue to slide further down the ladder at the bottom of the standings, there are big questions about the future. Those questions likely start for many people about Manny Machado, and what the O’s might be able to recoup in a trade of the star shortstop. But for others, like myself, my attention is more on Jones. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the Orioles will likely deal Machado prior to this month’s non-waiver trade deadline and that they probably won’t be in the market to re-sign him this offseason. With Jones, the story is much more complex.

There is uncertainty about whether there is a trade market for Jones. He is, after all, a 32-year-old centerfielder. But his numbers haven’t dipped like you might think. This season, he’s posting offensive stats only slightly less than his career averages. He’s taken a bit of a hit to his power figures and there are questions about whether he can continue to play center field rather than moving to a corner spot. But he can still be a very useful if not above average piece for a contending club down the stretch of a playoff chase.

The other, and perhaps more pressing question, is whether Jones would agree to be traded. With 10-and-5 rights, he has the ability to veto any deal. Jones clearly wants to be part of a winning club, but he’s also built himself a legacy in Baltimore. I think the onus is on the club to show there is a future to look forward to in order to keep Jones around. What motivation would he have to return to the O’s beyond this season if he’s going to be playing with a bunch of veterans who don’t belong on a big league roster? Perhaps he wouldn’t even want to serve as a veteran presence on a club of young developing players, but that would at least provide some motivation.

Nothing is going to tarnish Jones’ legacy in Baltimore. Even if he goes to another team and wins a World Series, he’s going to be beloved in Charm City for years to come. He’ll be an Orioles Hall of Famer, and spoken about as one of the best to ever wear the uniform. Yet just as crucial as his play on the field is the connection he’s made with fans off it. As a white man, I can’t begin to understand the impact Jones has had on Baltimore’s African-American community. But I do know it’s crucial. Jones will always consider San Diego home, but he’ll also always have a place in Baltimore.

The next few weeks are going to be crucial for the Orioles, there’s no question about it. What is accomplished by way of trades involving Machado, and potentially others like Zach Britton and Brad Brach, could go a long way to determining the future setup of the organization on the field. But there’s also a question of a legacy player that could seep into the winter when he becomes a free agent. Regardless of the end result, there’s no doubt in my mind that Jones has cemented himself as one of the franchise’s most crucial pieces with an importance that will linger well beyond his playing days.

Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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