Chipper Jones will play the 2012 season in Atlanta. Well, that's at least what he told everyone on Friday. With some pop remaining in his bat and as much as $25 million dollars remaining on his contract, who could blame him? The Hall of Famer has earned it.
The definite return of our third baseman does change the outlook of both the 2011 off-season and 2012 season considerably. Let's take a look at a few of these changes:
Fourteen million dollars is a lot of money. Assuming Atlanta's payroll hovers somewhere around $90 million next season, Chipper will command nearly 16-percent of the team's financial resources. That's a lot for a 40-year-old with bad knees. Nonetheless, he is Chipper Jones and he has earned it with his loyalty to the franchise.
As far as his teammates go, Nate McLouth, Kenshin Kawakami, Alex Gonzalez, Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill are the predominate names who will see their contract either expire or have an option declined. The loss of those players will free up approximately $21 million dollars. That may seem like a lot, but there is something to consider: pay increases.
Dan Uggla will see his pay rise from $9 million to $13 million. Brian McCann's contract -- which is pretty damn great -- will increase by two million. Michael Bourn, Martin Prado, Jair Jurrjens and Eric O'Flaherty will all see significant raises in arbitration, and the team could elect to bring back Peter Moylan for his final season, assuming they deem his back is healthy. These increases won't likely add up to the $21 million gained from the previously mentioned expiring contracts, but it's not like Atlanta will have a boat load of cash sitting around to spend freely.
Well, at least they won't unless they could somehow unload Derek Lowe and the remaining $15 million left on his contract, but that isn't likely.
On The Field:
For a team with uncertainty surrounding three positions for 2012 just a few months ago -- third base, shortstop, center field -- only one true hole remains. With Chipper back at third and Bourn set to man center field, the only empty position is shortstop. In all honesty, this is likely filled with cheap, in-house candidates.
Alex Gonzalez, while not stellar with the bat, is still one of the better fielders in the game and is fine assuming he hits no higher than seventh or eighth in the batting order. In addition to Gonzalez, the team currently has prospect Tyler Pastornicky playing well in Triple-A Gwinnett. Most expect Pastornicky to make it to Atlanta sometime in the next 12 months, but it is unknown if he would be able to handle the full-time duties at shortstop for an entire season.
It makes the most sense -- financially and in terms of production -- for the Braves to re-sign Gonzalez to a one-year deal for $2 million or so and then have Pastornicky ready should the incumbent shortstop continue to decline rapidly at the plate. It brings both stability and a plan for the future at the position.
With Chipper back and Martin Prado capable of playing third, the only real area of concern would be to add a right-handed corner outfielder. That player would not have to be a star by any means, but at least be capable of being productive both off the bench and in right and left field should an injury or severe slump arise. That player may be an in-house candidate such as Jose Constanza, or it may be a bigger-name free agent like Josh Willingham or Cody Ross.
Regardless of that player, Frank Wren and Braves fans should rest easy knowing a bench player is likely the biggest concern on the roster.
The plan -- or at least what many believe to be the plan of GM Frank Wren -- is to move Martin Prado to third base once Chipper Jones retires. This would open up a spot in the outfield. At the moment, Atlanta has no player in-house who could take over those duties as early as 2013.
With a bevy of pitching prospects already in the organization, Wren now has yet another season to gather resources as he looks for a potential replacement. That's usually not a good thing for the other teams in the league.
The Bottom Line:
This is big news for the franchise. Chipper will be at the hot corner yet again and it brings stability to the Braves for the near future. Baseball at Turner Field just does not seem right without No. 10 in the lineup, and fans will get to see their franchise player in action for at least one more year. This is a good day.