I didn't think it would come to this, but here we are. And besides, anything to distract us from Silva.
I'm going to talk about glovework first since it's the point that a lot of people seem to be overlooking.
Once a shortstop, Adam Jones is an extraordinary athlete regarded as a potential Gold Glover in center (I know, I know, Gold Gloves are worthless, but you get the point). Although his experience in the outfield was limited, Jones was terrific in Tacoma last year, helping clowns like Jorge Campillo maintain their appealing ERA's. Then, after getting promoted to Seattle, he had to adjust on the fly to playing a corner and, despite a few ugly drops, performed quite well in a small sample.
Obviously, Ichiro's going to stay in center for as long as he wants, so Jones' immediate future is in right. But don't fall into the trap of assuming this negates the impact of his glove; if Jones is good in CF, then he should be great in RF, relative to his peers (which is how these things are judged).
The way I figure, Jones' defensive contribution probably looks something like this:
(Ed. note: not scientific)
He's a virtual lock to be above-average, and I think, going forward, he should be something like a +10 < x < +20 defensive player in right. Which'll make him stand out, since generally speaking people that good are handed a job in center. This is good news for a pitching staff that isn't going to strike many people out (unless it includes Bedard, but in that case Jones is gone and none of this means anything to us anyway).
Don't ignore the glove. It's an important part of what makes AJ so special.
AJ has worked hard to eliminate the biggest holes in his offensive game. At this point, he's pretty much a finished product. No, he's never going to draw a ton of walks, and he's always going to strike out a little bit, but that's just his approach. No longer is he easily disposed of with a good breaking ball, and no longer does he give up when he's got two strikes. He's an aggressive, productive player capable of hitting for both average and power.
In a year during which he didn't turn 22 until August, Adam Jones put up a .968 OPS in AAA. The only players in his age group to perform that well were Felix Pie and Billy Butler. That's an impressive accomplishment no matter how you look at it, and it represents AJ's mammoth leap forward, after never previously having topped .849. It's amazing what can happen when a prospect puts everything together.
Yeah, it's possible that AJ could bust in the Majors, but by the time a player performs that well in AAA, a lot of the unpredictability is gone. We're not talking about a Greg Halman here, someone with loads of talent but a long way to go. Prospects who succeed in AAA, as a group, tend to go on to have strong ML careers, with few exceptions. If AJ busts, it'll be because he either starts struggling with injuries or has a huge hole in his swing that as of yet has gone undetected.
Let's put it another way. We know for a fact that a low percentage of prospects who've performed at AJ's level turn into busts. How does this compare to "established Major Leaguers"? In a completely informal study, I grabbed 30 totally random (Excel randomized it for me to remove any bias) qualified ML batters from 2006 and looked at how they did in 2007. Six of them lost at least 20% of their 2006 OPS. In other words, 6 of 30 established Major Leaguers "busted" this year. The odds of an elite prospect like Jones stagnating as a AAAA player are roughly equivalent to those of a "reliable veteran" suddenly doing the same thing.
Let's get over this fear of the Major League adjustment. Yeah, it exists, but very, very rarely does it turn an elite talent like Jones into a bad player. Most people get over it. The odds are on AJ's side.
How do you project his offense? If he ends up like Juan Encarnacion, he's a little above-average overall, thanks to his glove. If he ends up like Reggie Sanders, he's a star. And if he ends up like Curtis Granderson, he's a superstar and eventual HoF candidate. I'll leave it up to you to assign your own probabilities, but the fact of the matter is that if AJ's destined to be any less than at least an average player, he's going to have to really throw us for a loop at the plate. Even if he only repeats last year's small sample .246/.300/.400 for the rest of his life, he's still a decent player. And I think that's the absolute floor.
(For the record, yes, being right-handed in Safeco would take a toll on AJ, but it wouldn't be like Mike Cameron or anything. Jones is a lot better at going the other way.)
Adam Jones is under team control for the next six years. He won't be due for arbitration until the fall of 2010. Over the next three seasons, he'll earn something like $2-3m combined, followed by escalating annual salaries depending on how he performs. But at no point over those six years will he earn FA money. That's not how it works. You know how we think front offices are getting bent over by FA wages? It's the exact opposite for players under team control. They get paid far less than they deserve because they don't have any leverage.
These players - the ones still under team control - are the most valuable players in the game. They give you a lot of production for a very low cost, offering you a ton of flexibility at other positions. You know, the kind of flexibility that enables you to throw huge money at the best free agents on the market to complete the roster. You don't want to be in a position where you're constantly reloading with FA's. You want to be in a position where you're constantly reloading with younger players earning lower salaries. The upside of taking this approach is enormous.
At the very least, Adam Jones is an average overall player who won't be getting paid very much money for a long, long time. The overwhelming probability, however, is that he's even more, a good to great player earning pennies on the dollar for the next six years. Six years! I hate the word "untouchable," because I think you should always be willing to entertain offers for everyone on the roster, but the list of players for whom I'd be willing to give away Adam Jones is only a little longer than the same list for Felix. Forget about whether he'll end up with an OPS of .750 or .800 or .850 or .900; that's only a fraction of the picture, and it undersells his value to the organization. There's so much more to it that people just aren't talking about enough in light of all the Bedard discussion.
I can't make any guarantees as to what lies ahead for Adam Jones. Gun to my head, though, if you forced me to make one, it would be this - trade Adam Jones and you will regret it. Fast.