Report: Jones and Orioles close to deal (updated)

The first-place Orioles are  close to signing center fielder Adam Jones to a club-record contract extension, two sources confirmed to MLB.com

Jones’ deal is expected to be six years and in the $85 million range according to FoxSports.com, which first reported that the two sides were deep in negotiations on Friday morning. That contract would easily surpass the two largest deals in franchise history, which include Miguel Tejada’s six-year, $72 million contract signed in December in 2003 and Nick Markakis’ current six-year, $66.1 million extension.

Sources confirmed the two sides are discussing a massive extension, although nothing is on the immediate horizon as of Friday afternoon. One source did confirm that Jones underwent a physical during the team’s off-day Thursday, which is another sign that the extension talks are serious and could be closer than the organization is letting on. It’s team policy to have a completed physical before a long-term deal is finalized.

Reached for comment, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette downplayed the reports that the two sides are on the brink of a deal.

“It’s really not something I talk about during the season, I think the fans and the focus should be on how the team is playing,” Duquette said of Jones’ contract negotiations. “But I can tell you nothing is imminent there.”

Asked if he had changed his stance on negotiating in-season, Duquette reiterated: “It’s not something I talk about. The focus should be on this team.”

The 26-year-old Jones is eligible for free agency after next season and signing him long-term would be a huge boost for an organization trying to show its commitment to winning after 14 consecutive losing seasons. The Orioles are off to their best start in seven season at 28-17 and Jones is hitting .311/.357/.601 with 14 homers and 29 RBIs through  45 games and is making $6.15 million this season.

While Duquette has said that he deemed in-season extension talks a “distraction”, the team’s hot start and the fear that Jones –who is off to his scorching start — would explore free agency at the end of ’12 has pushed talks along further. A fierce competitor, Jones has made it no secret he wants to win and locking him up long-term would certainly help the Orioles’ chances as well as be received with resounding support in the city.

Jones underwent a physical during the team’s off day Thursday, which is another sign that these extension talks are both serious and close. It’s team policy to have a completed physical before any long-term deal, and is generally one of the final steps.

Jones enters Friday’s series with a career-high 15 game hitting streak, the longest such streak by an Oriole this season, and ranks second in the American League in homers and total bases (110). The Orioles’ cleanup hitter, Jones is coming off a 2011 season in which he was named the “Most Valuable Oriole” by members of the local press, setting single-season career highs with 151 games played, 26 doubles, 25 homers, 83 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and 53 extra-base hits.

An All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2009, Jones was acquired by the Orioles from Seattle along with Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio and Tony Butler, a package that sent left-handed starter Erik Bedard to the Mariners. Jones was Seattle’s first-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Morse High School in San Diego, Calif.

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My take: I’ve mentioned this a few times on the radio and when people asked on Twitter, but –to me– this is the best way to handle the Jones situation. If the Orioles had waited until this winter, I think you would have seen Jones tempted by free agency being a year away. Obviously nothing has been agreed upon, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette felt it was important enough to go against his policy of negotiating in-season, which he previously called a distraction.

But every time Jones homers or makes a nice play, it becomes even more of a distraction as fans are clamoring for the organization to lock him up long term. Jones wants to win as much –if not more — than any other player in that clubhouse. The perception that he wants to go back home to the West Coast to play was greatly exaggerated and one I always thought would be trumped if he felt the Orioles had a chance to win soon.  Jones is one of manager Buck Showalter’s favorite players for the way he gives it 100 percent every single day, and his transformation this year to more of a mature, stabilizing force has been fun to watch.

Again, nothing has been signed or agreed upon. But it looks like the two sides are close enough that there could be an announcement over the weekend, and there would have to be a complete breakdown for talks to dissipate. Stay tuned.

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