By Paul Newberry/The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Struggling through another disappointing season, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones told The Associated Press he would meet with team officials Tuesday to discuss his future and acknowledged that he’s considering retirement.
Jones declined to comment directly on whether he’ll retire at the end of the season, but it seemed clear that he’s made up his mind and merely needed to work out a settlement with the team over the $28 million in guaranteed money he’s owed for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
“It’s obvious that it’s something I’ve been thinking about,” Jones told the AP after arriving at Turner Field in his blue pickup truck about 2:15 p.m. “I need to go through the proper channels. Once those have all been taken care of, everybody’s questions will be answered.”
The 38-year-old Jones, who won the NL MVP award in 1998 and led the league in hitting just two years ago, said he planned to meet with general manager Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox to discuss some “red tape issues.” Asked if those involved a resolution of his contract, Jones replied, “That would be fair to say.”
He struggled last season and indicated that another difficult year would likely lead him to consider retirement, even if it meant walking away from a huge amount of money.
This season has been even tougher for Jones, though the Braves are leading the NL East. He’s battled injuries and was hitting just .228 with three homers and 22 RBIs heading into the opener of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Braves have gotten more production at third base out of utility infielders Omar Infante (.314, one homer, 16 RBIs) and Brooks Conrad (.280, three homers, 12 RBIs), which has made Jones’ troubles stand out even more.
“Well, anytime you’ve struggled at the plate and you’re having trouble producing, it’s frustrating,” Jones told the AP, standing outside the Braves clubhouse. “I’m used to being in the middle of everything, but it hasn’t been happening. Hopefully I’ll have a better second half and really help contribute to this team staying in first place.”
The team later put out a statement saying Jones would not be available to the media. He was in the lineup Tuesday, batting in his usual third spot. Manager Bobby Cox said he had nothing report and was more focused on getting Jones back to his usual standards.
Jones has long been the face of the Braves’ offense, helping Atlanta wins its lone World Series title as a rookie in 1995 and significantly contributing to an unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles. His best year was 1999, when he led the Braves to the NL championship and was named MVP after hitting .319 with 45 homers and 110 RBIs.
Then came the injuries, which started in 2004 and led to a stretch of five straight seasons in which he missed at least 25 games. He continued to produce when healthy, putting up 29 homers and 102 RBIs in 2007, followed by a .364 average the next season that gave him his first NL batting championship.
Jones’ numbers dipped dramatically in 2009. He batted only .264 — the second-lowest average of his 16-year career — with 18 homers and 71 RBIs.
This season, Jones has contributed little to help the team’s run to first place, ceding the spotlight to rookie sensation Jason Heyward, leadoff man Martin Prado and new first baseman Troy Glaus.
Still, Jones remains a prominent figure in the clubhouse.
“He’s a guy I watched when I was coming up,” Conrad said. “He’s a huge presence. He’s a great guy to have on the team. He keeps it in line. He keeps the players loose. He talks to everybody about hitting.”
Despite his lackluster numbers, Jones still has an impact on the field as well, his teammate said.
“He still makes the pitchers work. He brings a lot to the table,” Conrad said. “As a team, we’re better when we have him out there. It would be a sad day if he’s leaving.”
If Jones does retire, two longtime Braves figures will be leaving together at the end of the season. Bobby Cox has already announced this is last season as manager.
Jones chuckled when asked if he wanted to go out with Cox.
“No comment,” he said, stepping into the clubhouse.