Braves Spring baseball

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.

Athletics trade Billy Burns to the Royals for Brett Eibner

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 13: Billy Burns #1 of the Oakland Athletics waits on deck to bat during the fourth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 13, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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The Athletics and Royals swapped outfielders on Saturday. The Athletics sent Billy Burns to Kansas City and the Royals sent Brett Eibner to Oakland.

Burns, 26, doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, but he runs the bases well and plays solid defense. He was hitting .234/.270/.303 with 11 doubles, four triples, and 14 stolen bases in 274 plate appearances.

Eibner, 27, was batting .231/.286/.423 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 85 plate appearances. He has spent most of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he’s put up a .902 OPS in 219 PA. Eibner played the outfield corners in the majors, but racked up a ton of time playing center in the minors, so his versatility will be valuable to the A’s.

Burns will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2017 season while Eibner has hardly accrued any service time, which might explain part of the motivation behind the trade for the small-market Athletics.

Nationals acquire closer Mark Melancon from the Pirates

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 20:  Mark Melancon #35 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies on May 20, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
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The Nationals announced on Saturday afternoon that the club acquired closer Mark Melancon from the Pirates in exchange for reliever Felipe Rivero and minor league pitcher Taylor Hearn.

Melancon, 31, put together another solid season for the Pirates, leaving the club with 30 saves, a 1.51 ERA, and a 38/9 K/BB ratio in 41 2/3 innings. He led the majors last season with 51 saves and has a 1.80 ERA since joining the Pirates in 2013. Melancon is earning $9.65 million this season and can become eligible for free agency after the season.

With Melancon out of the picture, the Pirates intend to have Tony Watson take over the closer’s role.

Rivero, 25, has handled the seventh and eighth innings for the Nationals this season, compiling a 4.53 ERA and a 53/15 K/BB ratio in 49 2/3 innings. He’s just shy of one year of service time, so the Pirates will have control of him for a long time.

Hearn, 21, was rated the Nationals’ 27th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He was originally drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft but he didn’t sign and ended up going back to college. The Nationals took him in the fifth round of last year’s draft. This season, between rookie ball and Single-A Hagerstown, Hearn put up a 2.79 ERA and a 39/13 K/BB ratio in 29 innings. He’s a long way away from the majors, so he’s essentially a lottery ticket for the Pirates.

The Nationals needed an upgrade at closer as Jonathan Papelbon has struggled this season. The right-hander has allowed runs in each of his last three appearances, ballooning his ERA up to 4.41 with a 30/13 K/BB ratio in 32 2/3 innings. It will be interesting to see how Papelbon, who has never made a habit of letting his feelings go unspoken, handles a demotion to the eighth inning.