- Rating: 6.01
- Age: 34
- 2019 Stats: .260/.313/.414, 87 OPS+/wRC+ -0.4 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR
- 2019 Salary: $3,000,000
- 2020 Status: Free Agent
The fact that Adam Jones ever wound up wearing Sedona Red for the 2019 season is a prime example of the drastic shift in how analytics have changed free agency. Jones’ first foray into the realm of free agency did not go well, or as expected. More than a week into March, Jones not only remained unsigned, but had yet to receive any offers, this despite having a long pedigree of success and still providing some positive value on the field in 2018. His 2018 value likely would have been considerably higher, had the Baltimore Orioles not waited so long to move him out from center field and onto one of the corners. Still as a career .278/.318/.456 hitter (good for a 108 OPS+) with 20+ HR power, it did seem a bit odd that the 11-year veteran was not getting offers from any corner. Though Jones was rather outspoken about the issues facing free agency at the time, Jones rose above the fray, working out in Arizona, keeping himself in the best game-shape he could while also making sure he was locally available for half of the teams in baseball should one come calling. Still in need of outfield depth, as well as wanting a solid veteran presence on the team, Arizona finally came calling and signed Jones to a one-year deal on March 11th, only 17 days before the team’s first game. For the fandom, the feelings about signing Jones were mixed. However, given the low cost of the contract and Jones’ excellent community and clubhouse reputation (winner of the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award and three-time winner of the Heart and Hustle Award for Baltimore), adding Jones as a fourth outfielder felt like a low-risk, high-upside move that really didn’t cost the team much of anything.
To his credit, Adam Jones showed up to the final days of spring training in remarkable shape. While he continued to be critical of the free agency process and what analytics was doing to it, he had nothing but great things to say about Arizona as an organization. It was also apparent from the outset that his reputation of being a great clubhouse guy was a well-earned one. In many ways, 2019 is going to be the season of “what might have been” for Jones. Given the personnel on the roster, Jones was signed as a veteran presence to play as fourth outfielder and potential mentor to Ketel Marte in center. By all accounts, that is a role in which Jones could have thrived. But, March 25th happened and that changed everything. Playing a Monday night game, Steven Souza, Jr. came home and scored on a routine, non-contact play. When his foot made contact with the plate, it appeared to slip and that slip pulled his knee out of joint. The damage was extensive and equated into a worst-case scenario. As a result, the team lost Souza’s cervices for the entire season while he underwent surgery to repair the multiple tears in his knee. Due to the timing of other personnel moves, Adam Jones was suddenly the Arizona’s first-best option to take over as the team’s primary right fielder.
It didn’t take long for Jones to make a good impression. Starting in right field for the season opener, Adam Jones hit the team’s first home run of the season in the sixth inning off the hated Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the Diamondbacks lost that game, Jones’ home run provided Arizona fans with something to get excited about and also made a statement that Jones had arrived to play and show he belonged.
By the end of April, Jones had played in 29 games, starting 27 of them. Over that time, Jones posted an .860 OPS with five home runs, while playing decent defense in right field, making the contract he signed potentially look like one of the great bargains of the the MLB offseason. While the defense was never spectacular, there were still some big moments, including a great play he made against the reigning world champion Red Sox and future teammate, Blake Swihart.
The month of May saw a small dip in Jones’ production at the plate, but he started to also make a name for himself stealing a number of home runs, including this one off the bat of the Braves Ronald Acuña.
By the end of May, Jones had 51 starts in 55 games. This total was likely what he could have expected for the entirety of the 2019 season had the outfield remained healthy. Instead, Jones was not only the regular right fielder, he started more outfield games than any other player on the roster at that point. Beginning in June, it showed. The metrics showing that Jones possessed one of the slowest sprint speeds among outfielders weren’t necessary. The standard eyeball test could see that Jones simply was not getting to balls that most regular right fielders were expected to get to. Arizona’s heavy reliance on shifting helped to shield him from some of that, but it was not uncommon to see Jones come up a step or two short on what seemed like somewhat routine plays. Unfortunately for Jones and the Diamondbacks, it wasn’t only Jones’ defense that began to show signs of fatigue. After posting a solid third of a season through the end of May, Jones was a shell of himself at the plate in June, when he posted a lowly .600 OPS.
July was another rough month for Jones, though it did feature one of the two times during the season where Jones recorded four hits in a game. This was against the Rangers when he went 4-for-6 in a game where the Diamondbacks hung a 19-4 blowout on Texas. July is also the month in which the Baltimore Orioles visited the desert. This provided Jones the opportunity to face his former team. Jones welcomed his former team by going 3-for-4 with an RBI in the series opener.
August and September were more of the same. Jones, no longer a force at the plate and showing signs of fatigue in the field, saw his playing time curtailed. The extra rest seemed to give Jones a bit more life from time to time. This included the night in which Patrick Corbin returned to the mound at Chase Field, this time wearing a Nationals uniform. Jones went 3-for-4 with two doubles and four RBI in the game. It would mark the highest mark of the season for Jones in terms of win percentage added at a whopping 59.6%. The only other time he exceeded 32% in a game all season came when he crushed a pinch-hit three-run homer off the Giants on August 16th to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Late-inning heroics and memorable nights notwithstanding, Jones only made his way into 39 games in August and September, only 28 of those as a starter.September was particularly hard on him at the plate. In 57 plate appearances, Jones accrued a triple slash if .176/.263/.255 for an OPS of .518.
What started off as a great, expectation-exceeding season, eventually became an object lesson in why analytics had side-lined Jones for so long during his run through free agency. Had he been fortunate enough to spend the entire season as a fourth outfielder, his season might have been something entirely different, providing him a platform for a multi-year deal in such a role moving forward. As it is, circumstances forced Jones into a role his body was clearly no longer up to filling. To his credit, speaking to just the sort of guy he is, Jones never made excuses for his slip in performance. He wore his challenges and his slumps and took his lumps. When the Diamondbacks were struggling to piece together a 25-man roster using bubble gum and bailing wire, Jones showed up and was a professional, day in and day out. If nothing else, there was something there to be learned from for the youth that has taken over the roster.
Despite his late-season struggles, Jones has made it abundantly clear that he intends to continue playing. Given how well he did early in the season and the occasional signs of life he flashed in the waning weeks of the season, it seems like a safe bet that Jones will land on another one-year deal somewhere as a fourth outfielder, much the same as was originally expected for 2019. That deal is not likely to come from Arizona though. With the presence of Josh Rojas, Andy Young, and potentially Daulton Varsho all in the wings, looking for playing time, the team is unlikely to need the services of a player like Adam Jones. If anything, the team will need a back-up outfielder capable of giving Ketel Marte some time off in center, something that Jones’ legs are simply no longer up to, especially not in the NL West. It would not be at all surprising to see Jones make a return to the AL, where he can serve as a 4th/5th outfielder and part-time DH. With that sort of workload, Jones’ excellent April and May of 2019 might not be the last time that Jones looks like a solid MLB player.