The Adam Jones Conundrum
Down in Cheney Stadium yesterday afternoon, Adam Jones went 3 for 5 with a home run. Or rather, I should say, another home run. Becaue he went 3 for 5 with a home run on Monday, too. He also launched one vs Tucson last Thursday, he hit two in Albuquerque on the 13th, and he hit one in Round Rock on the 10th. He has six home runs in his last 10 games and is hitting .351/.448/.703 in May.
Jones has taken clear steps forward across the board this year. He’s raised his walk rate from 6.7% last year to 10.2% this year while keeping his strikeout rate the same, showing that he’s working the count without staring at hittable pitches. He’s also raised his average without sacrificing power, hitting .321 with 36.5% of his hits going for extra bases. He’s hitting the ball on the ground more often this year, turning on fastballs and driving them through the hole between 3rd and SS. His route running has improved significantly, and while he’s still got some more room to go defensively, he’s now becoming much more of an asset with the glove.
Adam Jones is ready for the majors. If major league rosters and line-ups were simple talent competitions, where the best player in the organization got the job regardless of other factors, he would be the Mariners starting left fielder. He’s a better player today than Raul Ibanez in every aspect of the game.
However, Adam Jones is also one other thing that Raul Ibanez is not – right handed. As we discussed last week, the Mariners offense is already too RH heavy. With only Ichiro, Vidro, and Ibanez providing left-handed bats, the team has a power shortage whenever they face a right-handed pitcher, simply due to basic matchups.
The M’s can’t permanently replace Raul Ibanez with Adam Jones. Even if Raul wasn’t designated as Mariner For Life by the executives, this team cannot afford to sub out a left-handed bat for a right-handed bat and become even more unbalanced. And, being pragmatic, there’s just no way that Raul Ibanez loses his job to Adam Jones in the middle of a push for a playoff spot. It won’t happen.
But Adam Jones is one of the 5 or 6 best hitters in the organization right now, and with the team doing whatever it takes to try and win, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have that kind of asset hanging out in Tacoma and blistering Triple-A pitching.
What’s the answer here? Honestly, I wish I had one. Perhaps you trade Jose Guillen to a team that needs a power hitting outfielder, such as Minnesota, and install Jones in his place. But that doesn’t make the offense any better, since Guillen’s one of the shining stars of the first two months of the season. Maybe you call-up Jones and have him play the fourth outfielder role, starting over Ibanez against lefties and giving Guillen and Ichiro days off here and there. But then you’re asking Mike Hargrove to actually run something of a platoon, and to take a veteran out of the line-up in place of a kid, neither of which are likely to happen without an edict from heaven.
The M’s are in something of a quandary. They have a guy in Tacoma who can help them win games, a team in need of help, and no easy answers for how to fit a good hitter into the line-up. This is part of why we hated the last offseason – the M’s removed huge amounts of flexibility by tying up the DH spot, essentially eliminating the chance for Adam Jones to provide a spark during the season.
He needs to be on the team. I just don’t know how they pull it off.