This year’s Baltimore Orioles team is much different from the team that won 96 games and took the AL East crown in 2014. Losing three of their best players to free agency this past offseason, the Orioles looked doomed for a troubling season ahead of them.
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Slugger Nelson Cruz, who walloped a major league-leading 40 home runs in 2014, signed a 4-year, $58 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. Pitcher Andrew Miller, arguably the best left-handed reliever in the game, agreed to a 4-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees. And to put the icing on the cake, their starting right fielder of nine years, Nick Markakis, bolted for a 4-year, $44 million pact with the Atlanta Braves.
After so much change, many thought it would tough for the Orioles to compete. People around baseball said the losses would be too much for the team to overcome. They said the AL East would be too competitive for the Orioles to remain relevant. They forgot about Adam Jones.
Now, in his 8th year with the club and 10th overall MLB season, the Baltimore centerfielder is showing no signs of slowing down, and has the Orioles just three games out of first place in an up-for-grabs division. Jones has been one of baseball’s most overlooked stars throughout his career, yet he may be the most valuable player to his team in all of Major League Baseball.
The 37th overall pick by Seattle in the 2003 MLB Amateur Draft out of high school, Jones tore up minor league pitching and took the fast track to The Show, making his MLB debut on July 14, 2006 at the age of just 20.
Jun 5, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA;
Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
Flip-flopping between AAA and the major league level in his 2006 and 2007 seasons, Jones was the prize of a lopsided deal between the Mariners and Orioles just two months before the 2008 season would begin. Baltimore received Jones—a two-time Baseball America top 100 prospect, closer George Sherrill, and three minor leaguers in exchange for left-handed starting pitcher Erik Bedard, who was coming off a season with the Orioles in which he finished fifth in the AL Cy Young voting.
The Mariners believed they would be getting an in-his-prime lefty pitcher who they could pair with ace Felix Hernandez, giving them one of the game’s best 1-2 punches. A five-for-one trade, the deal was questioned by many immediately. Bedard never panned out for the M’s, and soon enough, Jones would show the team that drafted him why they made a mistake by moving him. The trade would go down as one of the worst in baseball history.
Following a solid first season in Baltimore, Jones would really showcase all his tools in his second year with the team. In that 2009 season, Jones hit .277 with 19 home runs and 70 RBIs, as well as earning his first AL All-Star Game selection. Though his bat may have grabbed the headlines during the season, Jones was recognized as the American League’s best defensive center fielder by being awarded a Gold Glove when it was all said and done.
Jones then showed even more consistency in 2010, putting together an almost identical year to his 2009 campaign by hitting .284, with 19 bombs and 77 RBIs.
The San Diego native turned it on in 2011, when he would begin a stretch of four straight seasons with a batting average of .280 or higher, at least 25 home runs, and 80 or more RBIs. Fans around the league began taking notice of Jones’ exceptional play, as he was voted as an American League All-Star three of the four seasons.
Jones’ most complete season came in 2012 when he played all 162 games, recording a .287/.334/.505 slash line, as well as an .839 OPS. Becoming the Orioles undisputed leader, the organization showed how much they believed in him in May of 2012 by locking him up to a six-year, $85.5 million contract—the largest in Orioles history.
Jones finished that year sixth in the AL MVP voting, and added to his trophy collection with another Gold Glove. Most importantly for the Orioles, he led them to their first winning season and playoff appearance since 1997.
Though 2012 may have been his best all-around season, Jones upstaged himself at the plate in 2013, smacking a career high 32 home runs and eclipsing the century mark in RBIs with 108. Again, he took home more hardware—this time with a Silver Slugger, in addition to his third Gold Glove.
2014 would be another ho-hum year for Jones, as he went for 29 home runs and 96 RBIs, earning his third consecutive All-Star Game appearance and fourth overall Gold Glove. The O’s won the division once again, eventually being swept by the buzzsaw that was the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
Heading into 2015, with the losses of Cruz and Markakis, many people believed Jones would suffer without those two big bats protecting him in the order. He is proving them wrong. Entering Monday’s game against the Phillies, Jones has hit 10 long balls, knocked in 33 runs, and leads the team with a .305 batting average.
He is also exhibiting just how big of a part he is to the club, being worth 2.3 wins above replacement (WAR), and leading the Orioles in hits, triples, total bases and on-base percentage. Averaging 23 home runs and 80 RBI per season in his time with the Orioles, Jones is on pace for a 26 and 88 campaign this year.
Jones has embraced the role of team leader on and off the field, and the city has embraced his style of play. Now, he’s trying to lead the Orioles to their second consecutive division title without some key pieces of last year’s squad. If anyone’s up for the challenge, it’s Jones. His lead-by-example mentality has the team in the thick of things in a division that should go down the wire.
Well on his way to a fourth straight Midsummer Classic selection this July, Jones continues to be a ball-hawk in center field, as evidenced by this diving grab. While swinging a good bat is great, Jones has become even more valuable as a result of the defense he brings to the field every game.
With a home and home series against the Phillies over the next four days, Jones will be facing Phillies starters Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, Kevin Correia and Sean O’Sullivan. Though a small sample size, Jones has found the most success against Harang in his career, with three hits in six at-bats, including two doubles and four RBIs.
He also has hit O’Sullivan well, going 4 for 7 with 2 RBIs against the Phillies righthander. He has not fared so well against Correia and Williams, going a combined 4 for 20 against them, however, with Williams struggling mightily, Jones should do some damage in this series. He enters the home and home with a hit in nine of his last 10 games.
First pitch at Camden Yards on Monday is set for 7:05.