Published Monday, October 08, 2012
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Item by item, Chipper Jones' shirts and pants were folded and stacked neatly for the final time in his Braves travel bag.
His teammates also went through the familiar routine of cleaning out lockers Saturday. Jones is taking more than his clothes: The team gave the third baseman the entire locker as a retirement gift.
A likely future Hall of Famer, Jones will be difficult to replace. The Braves also could lose centerfielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn, who can become a free agent.
"This is a lot easier than I thought it was going to be when I thought about it five years ago," the 40-year-old Jones said. "That lets me know I'm ready."
General manager Frank Wren said with other parts of the team in place, he'll be able to focus on third base and center.
"I'm looking forward to it, because I think there's a narrower focus of what we need," Wren said Saturday. "We've got a lot of good young players in place and we've got to determine what we do in centerfield, and that kind of couples with leadoff, and we've got to determine how we replace Chipper. Beyond that, our club is pretty solid. So it's a pretty narrow focus."
Atlanta's season ended with Friday's 6-3 wild-card loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and the players all talked Saturday about the disputed infield fly call in the eighth inning. There also was much regret about the Braves' three errors, one by Jones.
"The way we lost yesterday was never in my mind, and I'm not even talking about the ruling," Gonzalez said. "I'm just talking about the way we handled the baseball. We've been so good for two years playing defense."
Jones was 1-for-5 with a throwing error.
"Had I had a better game, I probably would have accepted it a little bit better," Jones said. "I'm a little disappointed in myself for the game that I played."
Jones plans to visit the Braves in spring training, but not to coach.
"I'm not going to be a mainstay down there," he said. "I don't want to step on anybody's toes."
Jones' retirement clears $13 million from the Braves' payroll. If the team can't re-sign Bourn, Wren will have about $20 million to spend elsewhere.
"I think the Braves need some pieces, but I think Frank will have fun playing with all the money," Jones said with a smile.
Re-signing Bourn will not be easy. Wren said he was unsuccessful in his attempts to open negotiations in spring training with Bourn's agent, Scott Boras.
"They said they would prefer to wait until after the season," Wren said. "So we made it clear to Michael that we want him back, that we'd love to have him back. But we also know there's a process in place."
Bourn, who hit .274 with 42 stolen bases, had an $6,845,000 base salary this season and earned a $50,000 bonus for making the NL All-Star team.
Wren said he'll be a serious offseason shopper.
"We're going to be looking for premium players, I think there's no doubt about that," he said. "We're losing one Hall of Fame player and the salary that goes with that Hall of Fame player, and we're going to be looking to replace him. And as we do that, it gives us the opportunity to add another big player."
Atlanta's moves could come in in trades.
"There are not a lot of pieces out there in the free-agent market this year that are all that appealing," Wren said. "We may have to look other places."
Left fielder Martin Prado and Juan Francisco are possible replacements for Jones. Prado, a former All-Star second baseman, backed up Jones at third base and even filled in at shortstop this season.
Francisco hit .234 with nine homers in 192 at-bats. He could provide more power than Prado, a stronger defensive player who hit .301 with 10 homers, 70 RBIs and 17 steals.
Wren said the "ideal position" for Prado would be in the infield, but he noted that would leave an opening in left.
"You don't necessarily get to go out on the market and get the perfect guy for your team," he said. "We'll have to see how that goes."
Atlanta is expected to exercise their 2013 club options on catcher Brian McCann ($12 million) and right-hander Tim Hudson ($9 million).
Wren said the Braves have a "dynamic young core" of players, including right fielder Jason Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Their rotation was bolstered by left-hander Mike Minor's strong second half and the emergence of Kris Medlen. Closer Craig Kimbrel heads a strong bullpen.
"Our bullpen is intact," Wren said. "Our starting rotation is intact. There are a lot of things that are real positive going into next year, and I think guys are going to get better. I'm very, very optimistic about where we sit as a franchise with the thought of adding a couple of key pieces."