When the Orioles extended Adam Jones, he was hitting like a player possessed. Now that he's back to being the old Adam Jones, have the deal's detractors been proven right?
The Orioles went 29-18 through May 25th. Since then, they’re two games under .500. You know about the crazy record in one-run games (22-6!), the related crazy record in extra-inning games (12-2!), and the other fluky factors (Pedro Strop’s BABIP!) that have kept a team with a run differential of nearly negative 50 in contention with six weeks of regular season remaining. But for those first two months of the season, something a little less fluky, if equally fleeting, was keeping the Orioles afloat: Adam Jones was on fire.
Jones wasn’t literally on fire. Lighting fires under players is most effective when the flames are metaphorical. In the NBA Jamsense, though, Jones’ bat was burning up. Through the end of May, he hit .314/.365/.618, with 16 home runs. Only Josh Hamilton and Edwin Encarnacion hit more over the same span. Jones’ career high for homers was 25, and he was on pace to blow by that before the end of June. I mentioned the Orioles’ record through May 25th earlier, not just because it made for a convenient arbitrary endpoint, but because the following day, they signed Jones to a six-year, $85.5 million extension. That day, May 26th, was a good day to be an Orioles fan, which is not something you can say about very many days since, oh, 1997 or so. The O’s were in first place, Adam Jones was by far their best player, and he’d agreed to be in Baltimore until 2018. If you looked closely, there wasn’t a lot to like about the 2012 Orioles. But there was plenty to like about Jones.
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Adam Jones' power spike hasn't come with any newfound patience. Does this mean the Orioles will regret extending him by six years?
We know at least one thing for sure about the future of Orioles outfielder Adam Jones: whatever Jones does today, tomorrow, or in 2018, he won’t lack for meal money. Last week, the O’s signed the 26-year-old to a six-year, $85.5 million extension that includes a $2 million signing bonus and guarantees him an average annual salary of roughly $14 million over the next six seasons. If Jones plays poorly, he’ll still have more money in the bank at the end of the deal than most players ever make. If he plays well, he’ll be young enough to command another mega-contract when he finally becomes a free agent. Either way, his financial future is assured.
We can’t predict Jones’ on-field future with quite the same clarity. Jones is two months into what’s shaping up to be a breakout season, which probably prompted the Orioles to make a long-term commitment when they did. Even after an 0-for-2 performance on Wednesday night snapped a 20-game hitting streak, he boasts a .327 True Average (TAv), the fifth-best figures in the American League and a giant leap above both his .265 career TAv entering the season and the .282 mark he managed in 2011. If what we’re seeing now is Jones’ new true talent level, Baltimore could spot him several more million and still get a steal on the extension.
A look at the surprising early season success of Baltimore's hitters
Your computer is not broken. The Baltimore Orioles do indeed lead all of baseball in home runs this season with 56. They were quietly the fourth-best team last year with 191 home runs, trailing only the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers. Last season, the Orioles hit 1.18 home runs per game, but in 2012, that pace has spiked to 1.6 per contest… with essentially the same personnel as last year, no less. Nick Johnson—who anointed Joel Peralta his favorite pitcher this weekend when he took him deep twice—is the lone addition to the lineup.
Is Adam Jones becoming the type of player the Orioles should build around?
At some point, in defiance of their past and themselves, they have to get good. That is the central premise. If that premise does not hold, then there's no point to even talking about whether or not the Baltimore Orioles should extend Adam Jones—it's all just deck chairs and sinking ships. So this week at Heartburn Hardball, we're going to try on optimism for a change.
Adam Jones will enter his third and final year of arbitration at the end of the 2012 season, assuming he is still an Oriole—at this point, there's no good reason to assume otherwise, as teams such as the Atlanta Braves were repeatedly told he was unavailable during the offseason, and there were indications that this dictum came from owner Peter Angelos, not Executive VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette. Things could change, yes, but as a general rule, when Angelos hitches the organization's star to a player, the Orioles are in for the long haul. Nick Markakis received a six-year deal to keep him in Baltimore, a deal that's made him somewhat immovable due to it paying him more than $15 million over each of the next two years and his production never quite matching his paycheck since 2008.
Do early-season phenoms fade once the rest of the league learns to stop giving them pitches to hit?
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