Still, at 31, it's possible that Jones's best days are behind him. Since Jones's career-best offensive season in 2012, when he posted a .361 wOBA and a wRC+ of 127, Jones's numbers have dipped each season:
2013: .350 wOBA, 119 wRC+
2014: .340 wOBA, 117 wRC+
2015: .334 wOBA, 109 wRC+
2016: .319 wOBA, 96 wRC+
Jones played through injuries last season; that can't be overlooked. He missed time early in the season with a painful rib injury, and he also dealt with back and hamstring ailments later in the year. But then again, Jones is often banged up but rarely misses time. He's played in at least 149 games in all but one season since 2010, and he still played in 137 games that year (2015) while putting up with a nagging right shoulder injury.
Jones's struggles were mainly tied to one thing in 2016: his lack of power. His plate discipline will never be great, but nothing really stands out. He unsurprisingly swung the bat a ton, but any contact worries don't jump off the page (at least when considering who we're talking about). Interestingly enough, Jones somehow posted his highest walk percentage (5.8%) since 2009 (6.9%). That's a bonus when factoring in Jones's modest on-base percentage, but that increase in walks didn't help.
His .436 slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008, and his .171 ISO was his worst since 2010. If you only care about home run totals, then Jones's 29 dingers seemed to fit in. Yet, he failed to hit 20 doubles and didn't record a single triple -- two things he'd done in every full season he'd previously played.
It seems likely the main culprit for the power outage would be the rib injury, but let's look a little deeper. For some reason, Jones hit a ton of fly balls last year. He ended the year over 40%, which is about 3-4% more than any of his seasons with the O's. Unfortunately, he posted his worst HR/FB rate (14.1%) since 2010 (11.4%).
Using Baseball Heat Maps' average home run and flyball distance data, things don't seem unusual:
2012: 294 feet
2013: 298 feet
2014: 289 feet
2015: 305 feet
2016: 298 feet
That's just measuring total distance, though, so let's look at a couple of spray charts, courtesy of FanGraphs. Here's one from 2012, when Jones was at his best:
And here's one from last season:
See anything noticeable? I see at least a couple of things. First, Jones hit a lot more line drives to the left side in 2012. And second, Jones hit a ton of long fly balls to center field last season.
Jones also hit a lot of balls to center field in 2012, but not as many of them were in the air. He also pulled the ball a lot, about 43% of the time, and he's been in the 43-44% range until last season (40%).
It seems unlikely that Jones would be able to approach his 2012 numbers again. Maybe he won't be able to regain that level of power. But if he starts out the year healthy, and starts pulling the ball again with more authority, he'll be on the right track. Jones still projects as a 2-3 win player, but it seems unrealistic to expect the middle-of-the-order bat from earlier in his career to return. That's already a lot to expect from a center fielder (and that ignores the concern from many fans about how much longer Jones should remain in center field).
You probably knew this part was coming, but Jones's departure may not be that far from now. He has two years and $33 million left on his contract, and while Duquette may be stating publicly that the Orioles aren't considering trading the likes of Manny Machado, Zach Britton, and others for now, it may be time to take a hard look at what 2018 and beyond could look like if those players walk for little in return. That's the delicate balance the O's have to deal with right now. They're built to win in 2017, but they may not be as good as they think they are, and they're not currently set up to stay competitive in the long term. With a few trades, that outlook can change. And the O's surely hold several interesting trade chips.
Machado is the Orioles' best player by far, but arguably no player has done more to turn the Orioles around from a loser to a consistent winner. Plus, if thought-provoking comments and being interesting matter to you, Jones has been superb and reliable in that regard.
It was hard watching Nick Markakis leave, though it made sense. Watching Jones eventually leave town will be tougher to swallow. It'll happen, though, because that's usually how these things work.