March 12, 2012 at 11:13 pm by Kevin Orris under Atlanta Braves
News came out from Jon Paul Morosi and David O’Brien earlier today about Chipper Jones contemplating retirement. According to their articles, Chipper specifically said:
“Tomorrow might be my last day. I don’t know. I don’t really focus on it that much. The body is starting to tell me every morning when I wake up that it’s getting close. I’m signed through the end of this year. If I play a certain amount of games, I got an option for next year. I don’t know what next year entails. I don’t know if I can make it through this year.”
Those are some pretty powerful words coming from Jones, who turns 40 in April. With Opening Day less than a month away, Jones is stuck between a rock and a hard place right now. Say he does retire, it would most likely force Martin Prado back to third base and leave a combination of Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz in left field. Utility man Drew Sutton is another option after he signed a minor-league deal with the club last off-season.
The big question appears to no longer be if Chipper will retire in 2012, but when. With his contract up at the end of the season, it’s hard to imagine Jones coming back for another campaign on knees that will only get worse. I find it hard to believe that he will wake up one day and make a sudden decision; rather, he has a very open relationship with the Braves management and might be able to give them a better indication.
His knees aren’t going to improve and it will likely show in his results on the field. That being said, even if his production from last season takes a slight dip, his presence would still give the Braves the best chance to succeed.
I’ve asked Ben, Franklin and David to also provide a quick write-up on the Chipper situation. Their thoughts are below:
I think when he says “I don’t know if I’m going to make it through the year,” he really means that he honestly does not know if he will. I don’t take it as he is thinking about hanging them up before hand, but that he’s honestly unsure if his body will handle the season. I don’t think this is much different than last year, but it was also a different situation with him coming off of knee surgery.
I talked about replacing him a few weeks ago and how the team would go about it. The best hope is that Drew Sutton for some reason reaches his potential and hits well enough to be a capable third baseman for 50 or so games. That probably won’t happen though, so a combination of Hinske, Diaz, Sutton, and either Constanza or Durango is the likely fill-in option unless someone is acquired during the year.
What could be very frustrating and actually hurt the team this year is if Chipper runs into nagging injuries consistently. If he suffers one big time injury and is deemed out for the season, the team can at least look for a permanent replacement for the rest of the season. If he has nagging injuries, it’s more difficult to do that and the team would have to play backups regularly. Hopefully he plays frequently and Sutton becomes a quality utility player. That’s being optimistic right now. – Ben Duronio
I wouldn’t jump too quickly on thinking Chipper’s retirement is eminent at this point. Chipper is a very candid guy and if he feels down one day, he’s not going to hide it. I think right now he’s just sore, and got caught by reporters in a moment of him feeling like talking about it.
One issue that I think could come into play though is that if he gets close to losing his career .300 BA mark, I think he would hang it up. Chipper and his dad have mentioned Mickey Mantle hanging on too long and losing his career .300 average and not wanting that to happen to Chipper. I could see him getting down to .301 and suddenly his knee is killing him. Perhaps I’m too much of a pessimist, and we should give Chipper the benefit of the doubt there, but that’s my take on whether or not he will retire during this season: probably not unless he gets close to .299 or the Braves aren’t in contention.
Production wise, I think he’ll be mostly similar to last year where offensively he was still a valuable player. His defense will continue to erode and will be especially problematic if he plays next to Tyler Pastornicky, who has trouble making plays to the right. That all being said, Chipper was roughly a 2 win player last year and I think 1.5-2 wins are still reasonable from him this year. Chipper has perhaps the best plate approach in the game, allowing him to still leverage the skills he has to be a productive offensive player.
Replacing Chipper would be tough in the short term, as there just aren’t a lot of viable left field or third base options out there. None of the internal candidates would come close to being 1.75 win players. (Prado isn’t a replacement for Chipper, since we would then have to replace Prado). While it is theoretically possible that the opening up of Chipper’s salary could lead to finding an even better replacement, I don’t see who that player would be at this point. — Franklin J. Rabon
I honestly feel like Chipper is just trying to play out the rest of his guaranteed contract as well as he can before hanging them up. It’s hard enough having to leave the game you have succeeded so much at, but to be forced to before your last deal is done has to make it that much worse. Chipper has been known to say things like this before when his body hurts, but I also feel like it’s becoming more realistic by the year.
Chipper is no longer the hitter he once was, and his health limits his defensive ability. However, he will always have value because of his eye at the plate. He may have had the worst numbers of his career last year, including his only OBP below .350, but he still walked at a rate of 10% and was worth two wins.
And if he can’t make it through this entire season, the Braves will be forced to make a serious move. If some thought they lacked a bat in left field before, think about what it would be like with Martin Prado at third base full-time. You may be able to get by a combination of Matt Diaz and Luis Durango/Jose Constanza over a short stretch, and you may get production from Drew Sutton in the infield, but it probably wouldn’t work over a long period of time.
If it comes to the point where Chipper is forced from the game, the Braves will have to do something to either fill left field or fill third base and keep Prado in left. Neither will be easy, and neither will be cheap. Jair Jurrjens may be counting down his days in Atlanta much quicker. – David Lee