Friday, December 23, 2011

Adam Jones has some value, but will the O's trade him?

Gio Gonzalez is a solid, young starting pitcher. At 26, he's put up back-to-back strong seasons pitching for the A's. Now, though, he's been traded to the Nationals in exchange for four well-thought-of prospects. This is not an analysis of that trade, though; the Nationals got what they wanted in a left-handed, middle of the rotation starter, and the A's got a boatload of prospects for a pretty good young player, which is something they routinely do. Still, assuming Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gonzalez all stay healthy, that's a formidable troika of starters.

One big bonus for the Nationals is that Gonzalez has just over two years of major league service time, meaning he's still under team control for four more seasons. Unfortunately for the Orioles, who are at least mildly interested in shopping a younger player like Adam Jones, he only has two years of service time left. Also 26 years old, Jones isn't quite the haul that Gonzalez is, but depending on how properly his defensive abilities have been rated, he may be more valuable than some think. And even though there's no way the O's can get three (or four) top 10 prospects from some team for Jones, there's no reason why they can't at least get one or two (which is what the O's should really be targeting).

Jones is in no way a fantastic hitter. He hasn't posted an on-base percentage above .335 in any of his four seasons with the Orioles, and his OBP has actually dipped the last two seasons (from .335 in 2009 to .325 in 2010 and .319 in 2011). That's mostly because he doesn't walk very much -- his career walk percentage is only 4.8 percent. Jones's value comes from his power; last season he posted a .466 slugging percentage, the highest of his career. If his OBP ever jumped 30 or 40 points while he also continued to hit for that level of power, Jones would be viewed much differently. But he really hasn't shown the plate discipline for a jump like that to occur.

Back to his defense, briefly: Jones won a gold glove in 2009, which is a pretty great honor. But FanGraphs' defensive numbers and other advanced fielding metrics have never really rated his defense highly. He still has a tendency to play too shallow at times, and occasionally a ball will get over his head that would be caught by an outfielder who gets a better jump. He's also a lock to airmail a few throws every season. I don't know if Jones is quite as bad as his UZR numbers indicate, but I also don't think he's a gold glove-caliber defender either. He's probably more of a middle-of-the-pack center fielder who also happens to make plays like this every once in a while.

Anyway, here's the point: Jones is a pretty good player, but he's not a star. He's a nice piece for the O's to have, and it's fun to watch him play. But the O's as an organization are a mess right now. After Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado, the club's farm system is mostly a disaster. There isn't much depth at all there, and the O's should be exploring any and all possibilities to improve the current crop of young players in the system.

Would O's fans miss Jones? Of course. But they would all agree that they'd much rather eventually watch a winning team, and there's no guarantee that Jones would be part of that team. He could walk in a couple of seasons and command a multiyear contract as a free agent, which may leave the O's without much compensation at all considering the elimination of some free agent compensation in the MLB's new collective bargaining agreement. Regardless, the O's should never reach that point with Jones. He may not command a ton in a trade, but he may not be worth a lucrative contract that he'll mostly likely be seeking. But, considering that the O's usually aren't proactive and wait too long to deal many players when they have value, I don't expect Jones to get dealt now or anytime soon.