This years marks the final chapter in the career of one of the most respected baseball players of the last 30 years. Chipper Jones is without a doubt a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he will leave a huge void in the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse.
The Braves had a brief stint in the 2012 playoffs, but were eliminated in the Wild Card Round by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now, it's back to the drawing board for Fredi Gonzalez and the Braves.
The 2012 offseason brings a ton of uncertainty to Atlanta. Chipper Jones is set to retire, and Michael Bourn will most certainly test the free-agent market, leaving significant holes on the field and in the club house.
Jones is certainly gone, Bourn's return is 50/50 at best. So who is going to to replace Jones' leadership qualities in the Braves' clubhouse, especially if Bourn does not return?
My choice is not one, but two players: Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. Both of these players posses qualities to become elite players in the major leagues. They are both 23 years old and are entering the prime of their careers.
If the Braves wish to rise to the top of the NL East, Freeman and Heyward need to take control of the clubhouse and let their teammates know that this is their team. Both play the game with a lot of vigor and must have their passion rub off on their teammates.
Both players are also coming off of excellent seasons. They hit a combined 50 home runs and drove in 176 runs. If they can continue to produce in this type of fashion over the next several years, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward can lead the Braves back to the top of the NL East.
The future of the Atlanta Braves starts and ends with the success of Freeman and Heyward. Not one, but both of them.