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.