Jones hasn’t been on the field since Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards, when he received two at-bats before exiting again with soreness in his legs. He left on a roll with eight hits in 18 at-bats over his last five games, but he didn’t hit a home run in September.
“Physically, I feel better,” he said earlier today while meeting with the beat writers on the trip. “I just think at this point me trying to push it wouldn’t be the best for my behalf. The last homestand I really pushed it and tried to get in the lineup every day for the fans.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want to go limping into the offseason. The last few years I’ve been able to go into the offseason healthy and strong and be able to get stronger, so I think this is the same instance and I don’t want to push it and hurt myself. To be honest with you, it’s great to see what we have in (Austin) Hays and (Anthony) Santander, to see what these guys have got. I think you’ve seen what Trey (Mancini) has done all year, but to see what Hays has got...
“He’s had a hell of a year. I like his at-bats here, I like his poise here. These last five games he’s going to be able to play, so let’s see what the young man has. I’m not a scout or front office official. It’s just me looking for the future.”
Today’s session with the media seemed like an opportune time. What does the club need in order to contend in 2018?
“It’s always the same. Pitching, defense and timely hitting wins you games,” he said.
“This year we didn’t click on all cylinders. You can point fingers where you want. I just think as a team we didn’t click on all cylinders. Sometimes, we pitched, sometimes, we hit. We always played pretty good defense. But we never hit and pitched at the same time cohesively. It happens. So, I think Dan (Duquette) and Buck (Showalter), if they can sit at the same table this offseason, maybe just on the phone or something, solve it.
“That’s their jobs. I know Buck pushes for a lot of guys, I know Dan pushes for a lot of guys. Then, you factor in PA (Peter Angelos) to it, there’s a whole lot more variables, but I think that they both want to win. I know Dan and Buck do.
“It’s just a matter if they can get the right pieces here, if we can continue to develop (Kevin) Gausman and (Dylan) Bundy. (Jimmy) Yacabonis, (Richard) Bleier’s had a great year. We’ve got so many really good bright spots on this team, so I think if we can get a couple more bigger-name guys to establish our rotation, because obviously that’s going to be the focal point of the offseason, I think we can be in good shape going into next year.
“You have Manny (Machado) matured another year, you’ve got (Jonathan) Schoop maturing another year, and you’ve got (Tim) Beckham maturing another year. That’s three 25-, 26-, 27-year-old middle infielders that, to me, are the people who are going to carry this team next year. I think they just need to come to an agreement and try to do what they can do. And honestly, you’re competing with all the other teams, also.”
Jones has met with managing partner Peter G. Angelos the past few offseasons, pushing for the club to re-sign reliever Darren O’Day and first baseman Chris Davis and to upgrade the outfield defense. They’ll sit down again over the winter.
“For sure,” Jones said. “I plan on going to dinner on his dime and drinking a very expensive bottle of wine on his dime. But I’m a firm believer of keeping things in-house.
“Obviously, you see every offseason this free agent and this free agent. But when the Orioles mention money to somebody, the Yankees and Red Sox are going to mention money to somebody, and historically we just haven’t been able to compete in that department. Can we? Yeah, of course we can, but just the economic way, we can’t do it. I’m not an economics major, but I pay attention. But when it came to O’Day and Davis, they were part of our revolution. That was the start. Just like J.J. (Hardy). I just knew they were very big parts and reasons why we were successful and you don’t want to mess up that.
“Last offseason I wanted more outfielders. Everybody was saying, ‘We need pitching.’ Well, you need to have speed in the outfield to be able to cover the pitching. I just wanted improvements in the outfield. I think we’ve played a really good outfield this year. Seth Smith has done a lot more than I could expect. Joey (Rickard) been fine out there. Obviously, Trey (Mancini) is right behind Schoop on our team for MVP. He’s been unbelievable with the defense, a first baseman by trade and then going to the outfield in the major leagues and learned on the fly. He’s done a tremendous job.
“But what I was asking for was improvements in the defense. They want to say I’m doing this, I’m not good at this. Well, I think if you improve the people around me I can improve myself. I don’t know if we saw eye to eye early on that, but I think the message was across, I think the message was loud and clear once the season started, and you see how play went. But this offseason I think I’ll be an advocate ... there’s a lot of things. A lot of things that need to be done.
“We’ve got a lot of money coming off the books this offseason. We also have a lot of question marks after next year, so I’m going to get away from this game and recalculate how I approach Mr. Angelos.”
The subject of a contract extension will be tabled at dinner. Jones is a free agent following the 2018 season, but his situation won’t be part of the discussion.
“I’m not going to advocate for anything,” he said. “I just don’t think you can go to the owner and say, ‘Mr. Angelos, I would like this.’ Nah, that doesn’t work. I think everybody would do that if it worked that way. I think the thing is, they know I’m here throughout next year. There’s nothing I can do about that part, but beyond that, it’s up to them.”
Jones appeared in 147 games and batted .285/.322/.466 with 28 doubles, 26 home runs and 73 RBIs. He’s 32 years old and his body could use more rest if he’s willing to take it.
“I mean, that’s 100 percent right,” he said. “It’s not easy, though. There’s days when you come in and, ‘I’m a little banged up. Can I get a day?’ But then you show up at the park and there’s an adrenaline rush and you’re just like, ‘I want to play.’ I still get that. At six o’clock, I still want to play. The body doesn’t necessarily feel that way.
“It’s a mindset. I’m a firm believer that I don’t have to play 162 games anymore. Cal Ripken did that stuff. I did it once as a center fielder. I don’t necessarily regret it, but it wasn’t the smartest decision. Everybody on our team, we post up. That’s the style that we play with. It’s the style that Buck has implemented in us is to show up and play, but we need days off. We need more blows. Once it starts to get hot, June days, we need a blow. We don’t need a rest the first 50 games of the season. We’re riding the adrenaline because of the new season and all that.
“There’s times when we’re dragging tails and we need a day off. Everybody wants to go into data. It’s proven data that when people get a day off, the next four or five days they generally have pretty good games. It’s not easy and you want to get guys off here and off there. Sometimes, the schedule doesn’t necessarily permit it. The pitching doesn’t necessarily permit it. You want to have certain lineups for certain guys. I’m glad that’s not my job.
“Going forward for myself, a day off here and there. No DH days this year. I’m being mature about it. But it’s a matter of keeping them fresh, keeping the horses fresh, keeping them in the stable. This offseason, hoping going into next spring training, formulate a good plan to keep the guys fresh. Not just me, but Manny, Schoop and Mancini and (Mark) Trumbo. Trumbo gets to DH a lot.”
Jones doesn’t consider 2017 to be the biggest grind of his career.
“I think 2012 was a toll in its own, especially that September,” he said. “We were fighting for that second wild card spot and I didn’t take any days off that whole year, so I think after that year I was exhausted physically and mentally. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to adapt to the physical and mental part of it. I’m drained. I think each year you just drain yourself. And I think when you drain you’re sticking your nose into the mud and seeing what this game presents.
“Every day I come out trying to win and do something trying to help my team win. Am I going to get the hit that day? I don’t know. Am I going to make a play that day? I don’t know, but I’m going to try to do something to help my team win. That’s what I try to tell young players throughout the game. You can go 0-for-4, but you hit the cutoff man, you threw behind the right runner, you did the small things to win. That’s where I’m at right now.
“We need to rest. Playing 162 is great. I see all the tweets when I don’t play. Fans, ‘I traveled this far, and you didn’t play.’ But, I need to take care of my body most important, and at the end of the day who’s going to take care of it besides myself? I don’t need to have doctors do it.”