By Rich DubroffCSNbaltimore.com
It was an innocent questiona softball. Last March, a reporter asked Buck Showalter about Adam Jones. Was he capable of a breakout season?
Before a handful of reporters in Fort Myers, Florida the Orioles manager used the occasion to vehemently defend Joneseven if no defense was asked for.
I just left a guy in Sarasota, soaking wet whos been in the cage for an hour. The want-to is there, Showalter said.
He hit .280 last year, hit 20 home runs and played a real good center field. He needs to have a breakout year? What would that be? Showalter said.
He is. Its not what hes going to be. He is. If you dont like it, shop him around. We like him. We aint shopping him around.
After an even better year, the Orioles still arent shopping himat least publicly. In 2011, Jones had 25 home runs, 83 RBIs and a .280 average, and won his first Most Valuable Oriole award.
With the team not close to contending and Jones two years away from free agency, is now the time to think about moving him?
The best trade of Andy MacPhails tenure came nearly four years ago when he sent Erik Bedard to Seattle and came away with Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman and Kam Mickolio. Jones and Sherrill have been All-Stars. Bedard has been injury prone.
In his four seasons in Baltimore, Jones has slowly and steadily developed.. When Showalter took over, a former player said that Jones would be the new managers truest test. If he could win over Jones, who was known for occasionally loafing, Showalter would be successful.
In one of Showalters first games, Jones trotted down to first on a ground ball. The manager was incensed. He chided Jones, and it hasnt happened again.
At Dan Duquettes introductory news conference last Tuesday, he mentioned Jones as a strength. That seemed obvious.
One scout from another major league team doubts the Orioles would trade a 26-year-old who can do nearly everything.
If theyre willing to move him, theyre stupid, he said. You build your team up the middle. Center fielders are hard to come by. Those guys dont grow on trees.
Jones made 3.25 million last year and because hes eligible for arbitration, hes set for a huge increase.
The scout said that because Jones cant be a free agent until after the 2013 season, there was no rush to do anything with himand he wouldntthough hed love to have him on his club.
Im never one of those guys who moves a premier center fielder for pitching, the scout said.
If the Orioles put him on the market, Jones would fetch two major league ready pitchers and one promising minor leaguer, the scout believes.
While Jones likes playing in Baltimore, and his girlfriend is from a prominent local family, he hasnt signed a long-term contract. If the Orioles are interested, and if Showalter has anything to say about it, they are. Perhaps theyll start talks early next year.
Hes a Gold Glove centerfielderplayed as well as anyone can. I think more than anything hes had a very valuable effort year, Showalter said .
Nobodys played the game harder from the first pitch of spring training, and he should be rewarded for that. Im pretty proud of himHes been very consistent in his approach and effort.
Jones downplayed the award. Individual accomplishments are cool. It means nothing if the team dont win. Exciting that Im getting better. I think thats what I set out last offseason to do. Every yearand this offseason is going to be the same, Jones said.
He thinks he can raise his play. Maybe more than one level. Maybe four or five. Who knows what I can do? I dont know what I can do. Go out there and play as hard as I can and put the numbers up, Jones said.
Showalter returned to his offseason home in Dallas without having made final decisions on the two vacancies in his coaching staff. Hitting coach Jim Presley and bench coach John Russell will return. Russell signed a new contract on Tuesday afternoon.
First base coach Wayne Kirby will be back, though its possible he could switch to third base to replace the departed Willie Randolph. Rick Adair, who moved from the bullpen to pitching coach in June, will also be back, but its possible hell return to the pen. Randolph has taken a temporary job with the YES network, analyzing Yankees offseason moves.
Cesar Izturis, who missed nearly all of the 2011 season with injuries, and was once thought to be a candidate for the coaching staff, would like to continue his playing career.