Zach Wilt: What Adam Jones has meant to the Orioles

Every season in Birdland concludes with Fan Appreciation Weekend. The Orioles organization thanks the fans for their support with video tributes, experiences and giveaways. This season is no different. From Sept. 27-30, the O’s host the defending World Series champion Astros for a four-game series that includes an alumni autograph series, as well as giveaways for a coaster set, puffy vest and duffle bag. While I am sure people will be lined up along the gates at Eutaw Street for their duffle bag, there may be a bit more anticipation to get into Camden Yards and perhaps see Adam Jones in an Orioles uniform for the last time.

The future is uncertain, I suppose it is possible that Jones could end up back in Baltimore next season, but every indication is that the pending free agent will hit the open market and sign elsewhere this winter. Jones reportedly blocked all potential trades at the deadline, using his 10-5 rights to do so, and is the longest-tenured Oriole on the current roster. Craig Gentry is the only Oriole on the 25-man roster older than Jones, and no one else comes close to his decade of major league service time. The once young star of the Orioles has admirably transitioned into the role of a veteran. All you have to do is ask Cedric Mullins, who took over Jones’ position in centerf ield just three weeks ago.

As we all saw on Wednesday night, Jones still clearly has a lot to offer whichever team he ends up with in 2019 and beyond. The 33-year-old drove in five, including a go-ahead grand slam, to help the Orioles secure a sweep against the Blue Jays. Yes, I’m well aware that the O’s have won just 40 games at the end of August, but it still feels good to sweep the Blue Jays. Along those same lines, it’s encouraging to see Jones perform at this level over the last month.

When you take into consideration that Jones was the centerpiece of the Orioles’ transformation from a last-place team to a first-place team, was a cornerstone of three playoff teams (including a division winner), and now has seen that club fade off into the distance and begin to rebuild again, it’s remarkable that he’s still going out there every night and continuing to be a valuable contributor. I know he would say that it’s his job and that’s the expectation, but given the circumstances and seeing the story unfold from afar, I’m impressed. Since moving to right field, Jones has slashed .310/.375/.448 in 64 plate appearances over 15 games. As it turns out, the right fielder that the Orioles have been looking for since Nick Markakis signed with the Braves in 2015 was on the roster all along. It was Jones.

So what will the club that signs Jones get for the next few seasons? Jones is hitting .285 this season, a tick above his .278 career batting average. He’s on pace for 17 home runs - he’s hit 14 so far - and that would be his first time below 20 since 2010. Since 2011, Jones has driven in between 73 and 108 runners; he’s projected to finish this season with just 66, but he’s on pace for just 149 games. Jones brings a lot of value as a veteran corner outfielder with some pop and plenty of experience in the middle of lineups. When you factor in what he brings as a leader, I would imagine he would be sought after by a young team just taking shape or a club on the cusp of taking that next step.

Personally, I’m a big believer in the identity of a clubhouse. As a fan, I’ve witnessed talented teams fall on their face because of issues behind the scenes - I’ll never forget the 2011 Red Sox -- and decent teams take leaps forward because of strong chemistry - the 2012 Birds fit that category for me. Jones is one of those guys that can shape a clubhouse and form that winning mentality and dynamic. It’s incredibly valuable and hard to come by.

There are so many moments from his 11 seasons in Baltimore that have been memorable and Fan Appreciation Weekend will have a completely different feel this year. While it’s always great that the organization takes the last home series of the year to thank Baltimore’s fans for their support, I hope to see my fellow Orioles fans taking time to thank Jones for everything he’s meant to this organization. Without him, they would not have been able to achieve as much as they did over the last decade.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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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