01/09/12 4:15 PM EST
Inbox: Does Chipper's return impact Prado?
Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers fans' questions
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
-- Steven S., Washington
This might have been a fair question had Jones not made such an impressive comeback since almost retiring during what he playfully refers to as his "midlife crisis." It's easy to look at the fact the Braves are going to pay a 40-year-old third baseman $14 million (signing bonus included) this year and wonder if the money could have been spent more wisely.
But that would truly be the lazy way to evaluate Jones' situation. We're talking about an iconic figure who has provided countless contributions to the city of Atlanta and proven unselfish when the Braves have needed him to rework his contract in the past.
Jones has every right to play out the reminder of the contract the Braves gave him without feeling a sense of guilt. He has said he would hang up the spikes when he reaches a point where he is no longer able to be a productive member of the Braves' lineup. He was nearing this point in June 2010 and then endured a crushing blow when he tore his left ACL for the second time two months later.
With doubts surrounding him and his right knee proving cranky enough to require a midseason surgical procedure, Jones returned this past summer and hit .275 with 18 homers, a .344 on-base percentage and a .470 slugging percentage.
Dating back to June 15, 2010, the day he opted to delay potential retirement, Jones has led the Braves in batting average (.283) and slugging percentage (.483). His .355 on-base percentage during this span ranks second to the .358 mark Brian McCann has posted.
Jones has reached a point where he is at his best when given a chance to rest at least one day a week. But he certainly has not reached a point where he should feel an ounce of guilt about returning for at least one more year.
In fact, if I'm constructing the lineup, I'm putting Jones back in the No. 3 hole and keeping him there until the right fielder who is nearly 20 years younger proves he is ready for the role.
Why do we want to trade Martin Prado? I believe he came back too soon after the staph infection and was not at full strength. He will be back by this season's start and he is a tremendous talent.
-- Art R., Lafayette, La.
There's no doubt Prado's decline this past summer was influenced by the combination of the staph infection and countless extra hours he spent before Spring Training rehabbing and preparing to play left field. The fatigue affected his offensive production and his value on the trade market.
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Even if Prado had hit .300 with 10-15 homers this past summer, there's a good chance he would have been involved in a number of trade discussions this winter. This isn't some kind of punishment, as another fan wondered with one of his questions. This is simply a product of economics and roster makeup.
Prado is a versatile asset who has a tremendous work ethic and the respect of each of his teammates. His value is increased by the fact that his versatility gives Jones the comfort he needs to rest on a regular basis.
But as Braves general manager Frank Wren's looks toward the future while weighing both talent and money, it's easy to understand why he's at least looked to see if he could acquire an outfielder who would provide more power potential than Prado in left field.
That's not an indictment against Prado, who never asked to move to the outfield. He obviously profiles best as a versatile infielder, who can provide consistency and occasional pop at the plate.
If Prado produces like he did in 2009 and '10, the Braves can live with paying him the approximate $5 million he will earn in '12. But he would likely then be owed around $7 million as he entered his final arbitration season in '13.
Many fans have heard Prado's name linked to trade talk the past couple months and focused on what it means for the immediate future. Wren's thought process has to also include the kind of long-term planning that accounts for Prado's future costs.
There's at least a chance the Braves would not value Prado as a $7 million player in 2013. Thus before they even near a point where they might be tempted to non-tender him next winter, it makes sense to continue monitoring what he could garner via trade.
If Jason Heyward doesn't produce like he did his rookie year, do you see the Braves trading him, and if so, what can we get in return for him?
-- Josh O., Avis, Pa.
Heyward is not the kind of young player you can even contemplate trading. If he were to struggle again this year, the Braves can do nothing but hope that he starts moving toward his tremendous potential in 2013, when he'll still be just 23 years old.
We haven't come close to seeing Heyward's potential. But based on the dedication he has shown this winter, we've gained a better understanding of his character. Instead of sulking after the roughest year of his baseball life, he has spent the past few months working to strengthen and maintain his leaner more athletic frame.
With this being said, there is no way to guarantee what Heyward will do this upcoming season. But if he were to struggle again, there is no way the Braves could gain a return that would relieve the stress and remorse that would come from trading a rare talent like Heyward.
I don't want to part ways with Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado. But what about the traffic jam we have with our starting pitching? I don't want to see the Braves block the career path of Julio Teheran. He has nothing left to prove in the Minors.
-- Michael R., Brooklyn, N.Y.
There's certainly reason to wonder how Teheran will react if he is asked to return to the Minors after going 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 25 appearances (24 starts) with Triple-A Gwinnett this past summer. At 20 years old, he has proven why he is widely considered the game's top pitching prospect.
As the Braves map out his future, they have to at least think about the possibility that he would return to Gwinnett with a bad attitude. They have to weigh the same in regard to Randall Delgado, who certainly seemed to be disinterested in some of the Minor League starts he made immediately after making a Major League start this past summer.
With some health-related concerns surrounding a couple projected starters (Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson) and the possibility that Jurrjens could still be traded, there's a chance Teheran or Delgado would at least be able to begin the season in Atlanta's starting rotation.
If there is not an available spot for either of these pitchers, the Braves will have to convince both that they will be brought back to the Majors as soon as possible. Like they say, these kinds of things always seem to work themselves out.