Arguing the Case for Chipper Jones to Make a 2013 MLB Comeback

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Arguing the Case for Chipper Jones to Make a 2013 MLB Comeback
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Chipper Jones intends to stay retired.

Until the 2013 MLB season begins, maybe Chipper Jones can't be considered truly retired. 

For those teams in need of a third baseman or left-handed (switch-hitting) power, asking the now-former Atlanta Braves slugger if he's serious about calling it a career is worth a shot.

According to the New York Post's Mark Hale, a few clubs have checked in with his agent to see if he might reconsider. But it appears that Jones intends to go through with this retirement thing. He's not about to become baseball's version of Brett Favre.

Yet maybe changing his mind is something Jones should think about. Though he'll turn 41 early into the season, Jones was productive enough last year to show that he can still offer a playoff contender—or hopeful—some meaningful contributions. 

It's not an outlandish idea, though it may induce some eye-rolling among sports fans who have seen this retirement hokey-pokey before. An athlete puts his right foot in, he brings his right foot out. He puts his right foot in and then shakes our patience all about. 

However, if a guy wants to keep playing and he's not going to embarrass himself on the field, who are we to judge? It has to be tough to give up playing a game. Turning away from camaraderie with teammates and settling into a so-called normal life can be a tough transition. 

But Jones didn't seem like that guy when he announced his retirement a year ago.

He caused a stir by telling Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi that he didn't know if he could get through the season with the wear and tear on his knees. Jones later insisted he was joking, but there was very likely some truth behind the quips. 

Throughout the season, Jones' body reminded him that he was a 40-year-old playing a younger man's game. The Braves third baseman was limited to 122 games due to knee and calf injuries. 

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Chipper Jones hit .287 in his final MLB season.

 

Still Getting It Done

Yet when he was in the lineup, Jones was productive and a factor in the Braves competing with the Washington Nationals for the NL East title before ultimately taking one of the NL's two wild-card playoff spots. 

In 448 plate appearances, Jones hit .287 with an .832 OPS, 14 home runs and 62 RBI.

Had he gotten the 502 PAs necessary to qualify with the league leaders, Jones' average and OPS would have ranked fifth among National League third basemen. His home runs and RBI placed him in the top 10 at his position, while his .377 on-base percentage was second only to David Wright.

Jones also played an adequate third base when he was in the lineup, though he logged only 895.2 innings at the position. (That's compared to Wright, who played more than 1,300 innings in the field.)

According to FanGraphs' ultimate zone rating, he was just a hair below average defensively, allowing 0.1 runs more than a replacement-level third baseman. That would have ranked him fourth among his NL peers. 

 

The Market is Strong

Jones also has the fortune of playing a position highly in demand throughout MLB.

The top free-agent third baseman was Kevin Youkilis, who hit .235 with a .745 OPS, 19 home runs and 60 RBI last season. Defensively, he cost his team nearly five runs more than an average defender at third base.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Would Chipper Jones be a better value than Kevin Youkilis?

Yet, Youkilis signed a one-year, $12 million contract with the New York Yankees.

Prior to inking his deal, Youkilis drew interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox

What would Jones have been worth on the open market? Youkilis only made approximately 60 more plate appearances and put up roughly the same numbers. 

Jones could have been an ideal fit for the Yankees, who were looking for a part-time player at third base while Alex Rodriguez recovers from hip surgery.

While Youkilis' ability to play first base might help the Yanks a bit more, Jones' bat would provide more production at designated hitter. Maybe Jones could also have played some left field, though he hasn't appeared there since 2004. 

Jones likely would have been a better alternative to Michael Young with the Phillies. Not only did he hit better than Young, but he'd provide a far better glove at third base.

With the Indians, Jones could have been veteran insurance against Lonnie Chisenhall. Perhaps he would also serve as a mentor to the 24-year-old third baseman. 

Luis Cruz did a fine job at third base for the Dodgers last season, but imagine a left side of the infield with Jones and Hanley Ramirez in Chavez Ravine. Given the Dodgers' desire to hoard talent at virtually every position, it's not difficult to imagine that general manager Ned Colletti could have contacted Jones' agent during the offseason.

Of course, Jones' old team—the one with whom he spent his entire 16-year MLB career—could use him as well. The Braves haven't found a left fielder who can replace Martin Prado as he replaces Jones at third base. 

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Can Juan Francisco replace Chipper Jones at third base?

The current plan is for Juan Francisco to play at third while Prado stays in left field against right-handed pitching. When the Braves face a lefty, Prado would move to third base while Reed Johnson takes over in left field. 

That might be good enough for the Braves during the season, though general manager Frank Wren would surely prefer a full-time left fielder. But if Jones returned to play third base, Atlanta wouldn't have to worry about moving Prado to that position. 

Alas, this isn't going to happen for the Braves or any of the other MLB teams interested in talking Jones out of retirement. The man doesn't want to put his body through another 162-game grind (or however many games he would be able to play). 

But as Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien, retirement has been on his mind for a while and he knew the time was right to move on.

“There were times when I could have went out on the free-agent market and see if the grass was greener but I really didn’t think that it was,” Jones said.

“I never wanted to play [anywhere else]. I’m a Southern kid. I wanted to play in a Southern town where I felt comfortable, and I felt comfortable from day one in the Braves organization. … I bleed red, white and blue.”

But maybe it's worth checking back with Jones in July, after the baseball season has been played for three months without him. Perhaps not having to go through a full spring training and playing half a season will have some appeal. 

The only way to know for sure is to ask. 

 

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