What To Do About Chipper?

The theories are already swirling about Chipper Jone’s future with the Braves.  With his contract ending at the end of the 2009 season, many are wondering if the Braves will try to resign him.  Team President John Scheurholz only fueled the speculation when he said recently (about the Jones situation) that “the reality of our business begs that we recognize the fact that it would be a really unusual development if he were to remain here.”

Now, Schuerholz has never been one to tip his hand on what he’s thinking, so it’s tough to know how much of that is posturing and how much is their position.  And from the very first day that Frank Wren replaced him as GM, he has insisted that this is Wren’s show so he makes the decisions.  But that creates an added degree of uncertainty since we haven’t been able to see yet how he would normally fare in this situation. 

The arguments on both sides are pretty easy to guess.  Those in favor talk about how his production only gets better with age.  He was hitting over .400 for the first 2 1/2 months of this season and is on the verge of winning his first batting title.  His knowledge of the strike zone, the game, and his own abilities make him one of the toughest outs.  

Those against refer to the fact that he will be 37 at the end of next season.  Between fluke accidents and some nagging injuries he has been limited to an average of 124 games a season the last 5 years.  While he’s a bargain in today’s market at an annual salary of $11 million, we don’t know yet but kind of money he’ll be looking for in a year, or how long of a contract he’ll want.  Some would say it’s unwise to invest significant money in a player who is nearing the end of his career and missing roughly 1/4 of the season.  

It will likely come as no surprise to you that I completely disagree.  Being a fan, obviously I don’t want to see him in another uniform.  But my reasons for saying they should keep him go far beyond that.  

The fact is, he dramatically improves the line up when he’s in it.  Several players on the team have commented this year about the value of his presence in the lineup, and the fallout when he’s not. While the team certainly had their struggles even when he was in the game, they were noticeably worse when he was out.  

In the first seven games he missed this season, the team went 0-7. Before the All-Star Break when they were still in contention and desperately needing wins, they were 5-11 without him and 40-39 with him.  Bottom line is, Chipper is still one of the best hitters in the game, and having him for 3/4 of the season is better than not having him at all. 

Chipper is certainly not hurting financially, but in recent years he has also done a lot to make his contract more team friendly.  I don’t see him asking for a ridiculous amount of money on his next contract.  He’s made it clear he would like to stay, and I think he’ll go out of his way to give the Braves every chance to resign him.  

I don’t think a team should handcuff themselves with one contract.  Nor should they resign someone simply out of nostalgia.  But guys like Chipper Jones and John Smoltz aren’t just familiar faces.  They’re still some of the top performers in the game, and I don’t see either one of them asking for so much that it would hinder the rest of the team construction.  They want to be in Atlanta and I hope that’s what happens.  

As far as I can tell, they’re definitely worth the money.

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