- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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BALTIMORE -- Multiyear contracts are a two-way street, commitment-wise. Teams lock up star players to ensure long-term stability and goodwill with the fan base, while assuming the risk that a player's skills might erode over time. Players, in turn, love the money and security. But there's always a chance things will turn sour and they'll be trapped in a bad mix down the road.
The Baltimore Orioles became the latest team to hand out a big contract, when they announced a six-year, $85.5 million guaranteed deal for center fielder Adam Jones on Sunday. It's the largest contract in club history, ahead of Miguel Tejada's $72 million deal in 2004 and Nick Markakis' $66.1 million agreement in 2009.
Here's where the Orioles have a leg up: They've had the advantage of watching Jones up close since 2008, which gives them a major advantage in the evaluation process. Jones' natural skills have always been apparent. But with each passing season he has shown signs of maturity and the willingness to accept a leadership role on and off the field.
As an added bonus, Jones ranked among the American League's top five in home runs (14), runs scored (34), hits (59), total bases (114), slugging percentage (.597) and stolen bases entering Sunday's game against Kansas City. Talk about creating leverage in contract discussions.
"The dude made the cash register ring every time he hit a home run, didn't he?'' said Dan Duquette, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations.
Jones was born and raised in San Diego, but his news conference had an undeniably homey feel to it. He looked out and saw his girlfriend, his agent, Nez Balelo, teammates J.J. Hardy, Jake Arrieta, Robert Andino and Markakis, and 15 members of the Gardenville Little League team dressed in orange jerseys with "Jones'' on the back. His mother, Andrea Bradley, was also in attendance, and got misty even though he urged her not to cry.
Several media members asked Jones about his decision to commit to an organization that hasn't fielded a winning team since 1997. Over the past decade and a half, the Orioles are neck-and-neck with the Pittsburgh Pirates in rebuilding plans gone awry.
Jones' response: He wants to stick around because he can't conceive of the alternative.
"You see a lot of different guys go to free agency and switch teams,'' Jones said. "I fit here in this city. I fit here on this team. I fit in Camden Yards. I really don't see myself wearing another white uniform that doesn't have 'Orioles' across the chest.
"If we win here, this is my championship. This is our championship. I'm not part of someone else's championship. Putting all that in perspective, that makes me even hungrier to win. As a competitor, that's ultimately what I want. We can beat the odds here. I want to be a part of that.''
In short, Jones knows this proud franchise has suffered and its fans are downtrodden. He's seen the dynamic first-hand, so it would mean infinitely more to him to win in Baltimore than wait for free agency and jump on the bandwagon in another market. There's something very un-LeBron James-like about that sentiment.
The payday is still pretty sweet. Matt Kemp recently signed an eight-year, $160 million deal to play center field in Los Angeles, and Josh Hamilton will hit the mother lode when he becomes eligible for free agency in November. But Jones' $14.5 million annual payout will buy an awful lot of crab cakes. He's averaged 150 games played over the past two seasons and will turn 33 just before the end of the deal, so the Orioles are convinced that he's a good risk.
I fit here in this city. I fit here on this team. I fit in Camden Yards. I really don't see myself wearing another white uniform that doesn't have 'Orioles' across the chest.
”-- Adam Jones
"One of the keys to having a winning team year-in and year-out is to have players in your lineup who are dependable,'' Duquette said. "Adam Jones goes to the post every day. He hits in the middle of the lineup. He uses his speed to put pressure on the other team offensively, and he helps stabilize our pitching staff by patrolling center field at an elite level. He helps us on both sides of the ball. He's 26 years old. And he's a fixture in the community.''
The biggest knocks on Jones: He's a career .322 on-base guy, and every now and then a ball goes over his head because of his fondness for playing aggressively shallow in center field. But he's averaging a career-high 3.83 pitches per plate appearances this season, a sign of better plate discipline, and the Orioles haven't expressed a lot of complaints about his defense.
The Orioles are building a nucleus they can dream on. Matt Wieters has emerged as one of baseball's best catchers. Markakis is a solid player, although not a star, in right field. Arrieta and Brian Matusz continue to learn on the job in the rotation, and hot-shot prospect Dylan Bundy recently received a promotion to Frederick in high Class A ball.
Without the distraction of trade speculation or breathless "will he or won't he sign?'' updates, Jones can now concentrate on playing ball and building a legacy in Baltimore. He regularly pays tribute to Mark McLemore, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr. and other players who have passed along snippets of guidance and wisdom through the years and served as role models to him. Now it's his turn to assume that role with the younger Orioles.
"Everybody knows I'm not from Baltimore, but this is now my town,'' Jones said.
Only the passage of time will determine whether Jones and the Orioles have a productive long-term union, but they're loving the honeymoon phase. It was a memorable weekend in Birdland.
In the midst of having a big season, Adam Jones signed an $85.5 million contract extension with the Orioles on Sunday.