submitted by Michael Vetter
We all know by now that Nick Markakis has officially retired from baseball, and as my fellow ESR blogger Andrew Stetka eloquently stated, Markakis had an immeasurable impact on the franchise and is surely a top 25 Oriole of all time. He was one of the most recognizable O’s during the 2010s, an era bookended by irrelevancy, yet still full of great accomplishments. After all, the O’s won the most games of any team in the AL from 2012-2016, while becoming AL East champions for the first time in 17 years on September 16, 2014. The 2010s were unquestionably better than the 2000s for O’s fans, and we owe many thanks to some incredible players who delivered unforgettable moments for us during the last decade. Still, the question remains: Who was the greatest Oriole from 2010 to 2019?
I was somewhat surprised when I realized that Markakis has no chance at this title. Unfortunately for him, his WAR summed to only 8.9 from 2010 to 2014, even though he had a significant role in bringing the Orioles to the heights that they reached in 2014.
So who are the real contenders to be the gOat of the 2010s?
Well, Manny Machado and Adam Jones by far contributed the most to the Orioles’ regular season wins during that time frame with WARs of 27.8 and 26.6, respectively. There are some players like Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis, and Zach Britton who had great peak seasons, but each of them only deserves to earn an honorable mention. They did not perform as consistently as Machado and Jones in the past decade, which means that only those two could be the 2010s gOat.
Being the greatest in any sport comes down to contributing the most to winning. Jones and Machado certainly were part of several successful teams, as the Orioles achieved playoff appearances in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Unfortunately, both players did not perform well when they played in the postseason. In his 14 playoff appearances, Jones had an OPS of .397, seven runs and just four RBI. Meanwhile, Machado had only seven postseason appearances with an OPS of .570, two runs and two RBI. In fact, even the “honorable mention” players were poor performers and/or injured during those playoff runs. Based on all this evidence, no Oriole great of the 2010s was able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack by being elite in the postseason. Consequently, the race for the 2010s gOat title is very tight when we only consider the players’ regular-season performance numbers.
If neither regular season nor postseason statistics can create a clear gap between Jones and Machado, then we must recount each player’s story to determine which of them was the greatest Oriole of the 2010s.
Machado came up to the Orioles on August 9, 2012, when the Orioles were 60-52 (a .536 winning percentage). By the end of the season, the Orioles were 93-69 (.574). Now, we cannot solely attribute that additional .038 of winning percentage to Machado’s entry into the team, but I was at Camden Yards when Machado hit his first two career HRs in his second game. On that day, there was an overwhelming and palpable energy within the stadium, which I had never experienced before as a young Orioles fan. The Orioles had certainly flirted with the playoffs in past seasons, but Machado was the final piece that made it feel like Baltimore was finally going to reach the finish line. Now, Manny did not perform well offensively the last two months of the 2012 season, but he was able to add 1.3 WAR to the team purely by playing excellent defense at 3B, a position which he had never played previously. After that, Machado did not truly develop offensively until 2015, when his doubles turned into home runs. From that year until he was traded in 2018, he led the team with 19.3 WAR. That was 11.7 more than Jones’s 7.6 WAR during that four-year period in which the O’s made a 2016 wild card game appearance.
On the other hand, Jones was an absolute constant in all three of the 2010 Orioles’ playoff seasons, since he only missed a combined 13 games. He followed the example of Cal Ripken Jr. to become the team’s greatest leader since the Iron Man retired. He fully experienced – and grew from – the Orioles’ irrelevancy in 2010 and 2011, as he was already a fan favorite. Then, he was the co-Orioles MVP with Matt Wieters in 2012, when the O’s reached the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Two years later, he was surely team MVP in 2014 when the Orioles finally won the AL East again. Although it was great for the O’s to participate in the 2016 wild card game, 2012 and 2014 were the O’s best two seasons in the 21st century. Both of these seasons made history and allowed the O’s to compete in a full postseason series. Adam was the clear clubhouse leader for those two important seasons as well as the entire decade. He always practiced what he preached by playing 137 games or more in each of his nine O’s seasons of the 2010s. He made the game fun for fans and teammates by always cracking jokes and slamming pies into faces. Finally, even though he was no longer a superstar towards the end of his O’s tenure, I will never forget watching him hit a walk-off HR on his final Opening Day game as an Oriole in 2018.
In order to come to a final answer, it would be useful to re-frame this blog’s main question to this: If the Orioles were to retire either #13 for Machado or #10 for Jones based on their performances in the past decade, who would the franchise choose?
After evaluating all the evidence, I declare that Adam should be the clear choice. Not only was he a great performer, but he also led the O’s from long-term irrelevancy to turn the team into a true contender for years. He will never be forgotten by Baltimore, and neither will his impact on the community.
Honestly, I was not sure who would take this title when I began writing this blog. I was hoping that I would come to the conclusion that Machado or Markakis would win out, because they were my two favorite players growing up as an Orioles fan. Even so, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Adam Jones is the gOat of the 2010s.