Hopefully you didn't panic about Adam Jones in May, because he may be in the process of putting together his best major league campaign in his age 28 season. Jones is currently hitting .307/.330/.510 (.363 wOBA) and has an fWAR of 3.6 and an bWAR of 2.7. FanGraphs (4.3 UZR) and Baseball-Reference (-1 DRS) differ on Jones's defensive accomplishments in center field this season (and throughout his career, for that matter), but he's still on pace to put up career highs in both sites' versions of wins above replacement (previous career high of 4.3 fWAR (2012) and 4.1 bWAR (2013)).
In February of 2013, I looked at Jones's contract extension (six years, $85.5 million) and the five-year, $75.25 million deal B.J. Upton received from the Braves. Upton is about a year older than Jones. When they received their new deals in 2012 (Jones in May; Upton in November), they were similar offensively, though Upton held a significant edge in FanGraphs' defensive metrics. Upton held a nearly 10 fWAR advantage over Jones, yet with nearly 950 fewer plate appearances, Jones was very close to Upton in value according to bWAR (13.6 vs. 13.2).
Since then, however, Jones has held a colossal advantage over Upton.
What a difference a couple of years can make. The 2014 season is a bit more than halfway over, and Upton is certainly young enough to start to turn things around at the plate. But he hasn't had a full season of .300-plus OBP production since 2011.
After this season, Upton has three years and more than $46 million left on his contract, and it looks like a disaster for Atlanta. Meanwhile, Jones will have four years and $62 million on his contract, which seems like a bargain. Jones's value has grown as his power numbers have grown, and if he ends up being about average defensively this season and in the near future, his deal will look even better for the Orioles.
It's important to note that Jones's contract is the largest deal in club history. Perhaps that balances out some of the negative early returns of Ubaldo Jimenez's recent four-year, $50 million deal. It's hard to argue that Jones isn't the current face of the Orioles; the fact that he's one of the few players signed beyond 2015 doesn't hurt that argument. Certainly there's the youthful Manny Machado, but he has his own set of concerns. And the Orioles will have decisions to make on Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and even Nelson Cruz soon.
Still, Adam Jones is an excellent building block -- and if things somehow go south for the O's in the next few years, he would be an intriguing trade chip for many teams. Regardless, the Orioles made a wise choice to lock him up when they did.
Photo via Keith Allison. Stats as of July 3.