Jones, Braves complete extension
Switch-hitting batting champion agrees to a three-year deal
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As he mulled his options throughout the offseason, Chipper Jones reached two points where he wondered whether he truly wanted to remain in Atlanta. Initially, he was fearful the Braves wouldn't land the starting pitchers that would allow the club to be competitive during the final years of his career. Then he was downright frustrated by the fact that John Smoltz had been persuaded to continue pitching elsewhere.
Once the signing of Derek Lowe allowed him to regain some confidence about the organization's future, Jones again grew committed to spending the final years of his career in Atlanta. But this commitment became flimsy again earlier this month, when a sore oblique forced Jones out of the World Baseball Classic and made him wonder if it was worth enduring more long seasons at the expense of being away from his family.
"I was faced with a bunch of options coming into this year," Jones said. "Do I re-sign with the Braves? Do I wait? Do I get traded at the deadline? Do I become a free agent? Do I retire? There were a lot of options there, and I was holding all of the cards. But the Braves made the decision extremely easy."
Thoughts of retiring or playing elsewhere at the end of this year were officially erased on Tuesday, when the Braves proved their commitment to Jones with a generous contract extension that provides him the opportunity to continue playing in Atlanta through the 2013 season, when he'll be 41 years old.
"I would like to express my sincere thanks to [Braves general manager] Frank Wren, [president] John Schuerholz and my agent, B.B. Abbott, for getting this deal done," Jones said. "It means a lot to me to know that I'm going to spend my entire career with one organization. During my time in Atlanta, I feel like it's been the best organization in baseball."
Jones' three-year contract extension, which takes effect in 2010, provides a guarantee of $42 million over three seasons and includes a vesting option that allows for the opportunity for the veteran third baseman to earn $61 million over what could be the final four seasons of his storied career.
"This is a great day for us," Wren said. "It's a great day for our fans, and obviously, it's a great day for Chipper, who helped make this happen. It's hard to say what he means to this organization."
Jones will make $10 million this year, while completing the final year of his contract, and then draw a $13 million salary during the 2010, '11 and '12 seasons. During this three-season span, the six-time All-Star will have the opportunity to annually gain a bonus of $1.5 million. These separate $750,000 bonuses would vest when he plays in 135 games and 140 games in a specific season.
This extension also includes a $9 million vesting option for the 2013 season that will be exercised if Jones plays in 123 games in '12 or if he plays in an average of 127 games during the '11 and '12 seasons. If this option is exercised, he'd also have the opportunity to gain the same $750,000 bonuses under the same parameters that will be present from 2010-12.
If this option doesn't vest, the Braves could exercise a $7 million team option for the 2013 season.
Jones, who will turn 37 on April 24, will also receive a $3 million signing bonus that will be paid in equal installments over the course of the next three years.
"The Braves should be commended for doing this deal, because it's a market deal," Abbott said. "I can't say enough about John and Frank, because they stayed 100 percent committed to their word, and that was to ensure he would have a chance to retire here."
In order to maximize the value of this commitment made by the Braves, Jones will have to minimize the injury woes that have prevented him from playing more than 137 games during the past five seasons. During the past three seasons, he has played an average of 124 games.
"Nobody wants to be on the field more than he does," Wren said. "That's the big thing and part of the discussions that we've had. We're clearly a better team when he's on the field, and I think we're all in agreement with that.
"He's in great shape and he performs at a real high level. We want him to be here as long as he can physically play."
If Jones' option is exercised, his base salary for 2013 could actually increase to $13 million if he were to average at least 140 games during the '11 and '12 seasons.
The vesting options include four separate $1 million escalators based on the number of games that he averages in '11 and '12.
To exercise the first of these four escalators, Jones would have to average 132 games during those two seasons.
|"From what I've seen during Spring Training with some of the young guys, this is an organization that's not too far off, and I want to be a part of that."|
|-- Chipper Jones|
"I know now at my age that I have to do things better than everybody else to keep from listening to the questions -- 'Do you feel like you're getting too old to play this game?' -- and stuff like that," Jones said. "I don't want to hear that."
While some might question Jones' ability to stay healthy, nobody can question the fact that he's still one of the game's top players. Over the past three seasons, the accomplished switch-hitter led all Major Leaguers with a .342 batting average, ranked second with a .435 on-base percentage and stood fourth with a .592 slugging percentage.
Last year, Jones captured his first career batting title with a .364 average that was just fraction of points lower than the .365 mark Mickey Mantle posted in 1957. Mantle's mark ranks as the best recorded by a switch-hitter.
"If there is such a thing as getting better with age, Chipper certainly is that right now," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We're all delighted to have him back, and it's a good move on the organization's part."
Cox was the general manager when the Braves took Jones with the first overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft, and Cox has served as Atlanta's manager throughout the third baseman's impressive career.
While reminiscing about Jones, Cox thinks back to 1993, when the then-20-year-old prospect was in line for a starting job until he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Jones returned two years later to serve as the starting third baseman for a Braves team that captured the World Series. His crowning achievement came in 1999, when he led the Braves back to the World Series and was named the National League's Most Valuable Player.
Entering this season, Jones owns 408 homers and a .310 career batting average, making him the only switch-hitter in Major League history with 300 homers and a career batting average of at least .300.
"It didn't take a professional eye to see what he had," Cox said. "It doesn't shock me one bit what he has done in his career, because it was there at the very beginning. He had the heart for it and the talent and the passion to be the best. Just looking at his stats here, it's incredible. You're looking at Hall of Fame stats for sure."
As he contemplated how to end his Hall of Fame-caliber career, Jones arrived at Spring Training this year and was motivated by the impressive talents of the likes of Jordan Schafer, Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman.
Suddenly, he found himself reminiscing about the days when he, Ryan Klesko and Javy Lopez were making their way through the Braves organization and laying the foundation for what would become an unprecedented string of 14 consecutive division titles.
"The incentive that I have is that this organization is coming back," Jones said. "From what I've seen during Spring Training with some of the young guys, this is an organization that's not too far off, and I want to be a part of that."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.