SARASOTA, Fla. - Adam Jones sat at his locker this morning wrapping tape around his fingers as sweat ran down his forehead. Players weren’t due on the field to stretch for another hour. He was in full work mode in preparation for his 11th and perhaps final season with the Orioles.
Jones stated again that the club hasn’t reached out to his agent regarding a contract extension, He referred questions to executive vice president Dan Duquette, as he did last month at the annual FanFest event.
Does he want to stay? Only if it keeps him on the right side of .500.
“That’s up to the front office,” he said. “Business is business. I’ve seen all sides of it. I’ll never forget when me and Dan were talking about the (Nick) Markakis thing years ago. I thought that thing was getting done. I see the business and I’m not just going to say I’m going to give any answer because it’s what people want to hear. Nah.
“My personal feelings - this is my career. This is not the fans’ career, so I’m going to make the best decision for myself and going forward, I want to win. It’s not about money. It’s winning. I’ve got a lot of friends with rings, hardware.
“My friend Cameron Maybin, he won a ring last year. My friend Quintin Berry got a ring. Dontrelle (Willis) got a ring. Edwin Jackson got a ring. I’ve got a bunch of friends with rings and I ain’t got no ring, so I want to play for something.”
Jones is immersed in the city he’s adopted. A San Diego native whose charitable work within the community is tireless - much like his style of play. To cut those ties would hurt.
“I’ve prided myself on trying to give back,” he said. “My family, my wife, we’ve done so much in Baltimore the last decade. It’s been awesome. If I was to go somewhere else, it’d be different to not be able to affect the same lives in Baltimore that I’ve been able to do the last decade. But I would have to go to another team and hopefully be able to implement myself in that community, also.
“It’s important that athletes give back. We are in a unique situation. We can affect a lot of change. A lot of people listen to us, a lot of people respect our opinions on everything. Food, fashion, music, movies. Peoples respect our opinions on a lot of things. And we don’t have a duty, but we have a civil duty (that) if you’re in a position to help, you should help. That’s all I try to do is just give back to the community that’s blessed me.
“Baltimore has been tremendous to me throughout my tenure here, so it was just right when I got over here was, first to make a name for myself, but also implement myself into the community. It’s been amazing really for the last eight years with all the hard work of myself, Matt Death and various other people to implement ourselves and make a staple. You know, that has a price too. That’s important.
“The fans of Baltimore know I’m not just a baseball player. I’m involved with their community. I’m from San Diego. I’m involved with Baltimore’s community. I know the fans in the community and the inner cities. If I’m not there, hopefully someone will pick them up. If I’m not there, it would be a definite void because, knock on wood, I’ve been able to help out in Baltimore. I’ve been fortunate enough to help out.”
A last-place finish cemented by 19 losses in the final 23 games has sounded a different tone in camp. Manager Buck Showalter will deliver a stern message during tonight’s team-building excursion that normally includes a motivational video heavy in feel-good highlights. He’s warned that it won’t be a comfortable environment for thin-skinned people.
“That doesn’t apply to me,” Jones said. “I got rhino skin.”
“This is professional baseball,” he said. “It’s not a daycare. We’re here for one reason. He’s not my father, he’s not my uncle. He’s my manager. Simple as that. We’re a team. We’re here for one reason and one reason only. And if you’re not here for that, bye. That’s the message. Thick skin, that’s the rhetoric, but his message is he’s here to win. Pretty simple.”
Those taped fingers this morning weren’t pointed at any of his teammates.
“That’s disrespectful to an individual athlete saying he’s not here to win,” said Jones, a five-time All-Star with three Gold Gloves. “Every single person here brings their energy every day. Are people better than others? Yeah, that’s a simple fact. That’s why people’s salaries are different. But I’ve always counted on my teammates bringing their best efforts every single day. Even if we did not have success last year, it’s not from a lack of effort and I would never question another man’s effort in his game.”
So how does a team avoid the same plummet in 2018? Let’s start with the obvious.
“We’ve got to win,” Jones said. “Have people out there that are committed to pounding the strike zone, have hitters committed to having good at-bats. Have front office people who are committed to always trying to better the team, have PR people who are committed to making our lives easier. It’s a full team.
“When we have success on the field, it’s not just the players, it’s a bigger scheme. So I think we just need to get back to what we were. Pound the strike zone, have good at-bats, play good defense, be stingy with the outs we give up and just play the game we all individually know how to play. Our style is different. We’re not the walking team, we’re not the stealing base team. We are driving the ball, hitting the ball in the gap team. Let’s just continue to do that.”
The September collapse also cost the Orioles a certain level of trust from their fan base that they somehow must recoup.
“Well, they trust me. I think. I don’t know,” Jones said.
“I go out and play hard. I can’t control what other people think. You can tweet out the sky is blue. Someone is going to say it’s cloudy. Just go with the punches. If I play hard, what excuse is someone going to have for me? None. So if you control yourself and you play hard, play the game with respect, all that other stuff goes to the wayside.
“The fans in Baltimore know I’m going to give everything I’ve got every day. It may not look pretty. Some days it will, but I’m going to give it all I’ve got. And I think that’s just what they’ve seen from be since I’ve been traded over here.”
Duquette and the rest of the front office have more work to do on a roster lacking two starting pitchers and a left-handed corner outfielder. But Jones will take the field this morning convinced that there are pieces in place to make a run at the division.
“Me personally? I always do,” he said. “I always will take the guys in my clubhouse, on my team, over anybody. Me saying that means nothing. Now we have to go do. It’s not rocket science. We do need pitchers. I know that Dan has been very patient, but there are still guys out there. Six weeks starting tomorrow in spring training.
“I’m always going to be optimistic that there can be some people are going to land in our hands. We were able to get Nelson Cruz for cheap. We were able to get Ubaldo (Jiménez) for a lot cheaper than his asking price. It didn’t work out, but we got him for a lot cheaper than his asking price, so you never know. We’ve got six weeks to figure it out. A lot of them guys that are on the board are not going to stay on the board and forfeit a lot of money once March 29 starts.”
Jones has observed his share of offseasons in Baltimore and knows the flurry of activity usually comes late in the winter. It requires extreme patience.
“I’ve been here,” he said. Zach (Britton) is the longest in the organization and I’m the longest here. I’ve seen that strategy and it goes for a lot of other teams, too. There’s a lot of free agents out there. You can’t just see that we’re missing out on a lot of other guys. There’s a significant amount of free agents that are still on the board and other teams have the opportunity to get them, also.
“We know what we need. Are we going to address it? I’m not front office. I’ll go with the Manny (Machado) quote. I’m a baseball player. I’m not front office, I’m not an agent. I don’t got none of that information. But in here, we want to win. The players want to win. And that’s pretty much it.”
Their time in Baltimore may be running out. Jones, Machado, Britton, reliever Brad Brach. All of them pending free agents. Duquette and Showalter operating in the final year of their contracts.
A greater sense of urgency? Jones denies it.
“I don’t know if people feel that way,” Jones said. “Nah, once you come in here and once it starts, all of that other contract stuff and last year, all that stuff goes out the window. Obviously, it’s on the minds of people because it’s their lives but myself, Zach, Manny, Brad, we’re worried about ‘18. We are worried about getting healthy through spring training and doing something between those lines once March 29 starts. We’re not worried about the future because we can’t control that part.”
The same is true of a free agent market that’s only recently begun to thaw. A similar freeze could occur next winter and directly impact Jones, who for now is more of a casual observer.
“The really biggest concerns are like that in the first years of CBAs, and there was a very, very high amount of free agents,” Jones said. “New money coming in, the economics of it, I’m not all privy to. I don’t know how that’s working. I know there’s a lot of very, very top-notch players, a lot of top-notch players on the free agent market right now. Do they want too much money? I don’t know. I’m not privy to that information also, but I know there’s a lot of guys out there that can help every single team in baseball win and they’re sitting at home.
“That’s what I don’t understand. It’s frustrating as a player, as a competitor, because you know there are guys around the league that can help your team or your foe, but guys that you know belong in the big leagues who belong with a job. Is it because of money? Is it just the market and people don’t want to overpay no more? Like I said, I’m no GM. I’m on the outside watching.
“It’s alarming. You want to see your peers in positions of success. You want to see them with a job, you want to see them playing. It’s a little bit disheartening because most of the people you fought against throughout your career are at home right now when you know they can play.”
Before Jones potentially hits the market, he will grab a bat today and take his swings on one of the back fields at the Sarasota complex. More sweat beading on his forehead.
If this is the last go-around for Jones and other high-profile teammates, they’re determined to make the most of it.
“I think for everybody, we’re all older, approaching contracts and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I think we want to win. I want to win. That’s probably the highest on my priority list. It’s not money, it’s winning, because getting older.
“Obviously, I want to play until I’m 40 like Joey Votto told me. I want to win. And winning is ... you’ve seen the last five or six years. Last year obviously wasn’t that fun, but the previous five years were fun because we were winning, and going forward that’s all I want is to be in a position to win. And if I’m not, then I have to find a position to win.”