Chipper Jones will retire after the 2012 season

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We had to figure this was going to happen, but it’s still a bummer: Chipper Jones announced this morning that he will retire following the 2012 season. There will be a press conference later today.

Jones is under contract for this year with an option that kicks in if he were to play 123 games this season. I would bet the under on that, but if Jones wanted to continue playing — and if he was anything other than a complete zero at the plate in 2012 — the Braves would almost certainly have welcomed him back.

But Jones has never been one to be unrealistic about his abilities or his age.  He openly considered retirement last year. He has been on record for some time admitting that he’s not the player he used to be and has talked at length about his age and how much harder the game is for him now than it used to be. He’s had a rough spring too. If it weren’t for the fact that the Braves really don’t have any better options at the moment, I get the sense that he’d retire now. Probably doesn’t want to leave the team in the lerch.

I don’t know how he’ll do in 2012. He’ll get on base at a decent clip because his batting eye is still decent. He’ll hit some homers, though not a ton.  He’ll miss some time due to injury. He’ll make most of the routine plays at third while displaying poor range.  In other words, he’ll be late-model Chipper Jones.

But now that he is announcing his retirement we’ll have a greater opportunity to think about his career as a whole. A career that, for as great as it has been, is probably underrated by some.

He has a career line of .304/.402/.533. The consistency of the early part of his career — it seemed like he hit around .310 with 30 homers and 110 RBI every year — was not as sexy as the numbers some were putting up in the mid-to-late 90s, but it was astounding, especially for a third baseman. It wasn’t until his MVP season in 1999 — and a period when he made destroying the Mets single-handedly a hobby — that people really started talking about him as one of the greats in the game.

After that there were ups and downs and injures and an fortunate time in left field. But even in his down years, he was a well above-average hitter. And even last year — when it became pretty clear that the end was near — he somehow managed more than 500 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 123. And while his defense has never been a particular asset, playing his entire career in the National League means that he has always played defense, which is remarkable for a big time hitter in this day and age.

His future: a first-ballot entrance to Cooperstown. And I’m not gonna listen to anyone who says differently. Not because I’m a Braves fanboy, but because he’s a top-5 all-time third baseman.  And, according to some, an all-time top 2. I think Schmidt is easily first. After that I think there some legitimate — and fun — arguments to be had involving Brett, Boggs and Matthews. But the fact that he’s squarely in that conversation says pretty much all you have to say on the subject.

Happy trails, Chipper. Here’s hoping you go out with one last nice season.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.