Chipper Jones, the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, has never come close to leaving Atlanta.
After agreeing to a three-year, $42 million extension on Tuesday, Jones will most likely become that rare athlete who plays his entire career with one team; the contract has a club option for a fourth year, which could potentially make the deal worth $61 million.
Jones, the reigning NL batting champion, already has a World Series ring and an MVP trophy, but what he wanted was a chance to finish up his career where it started.
Jones, who is 36 years old, will be 40 when the deal expires. This should all but ensure that he finishes his career in Atlanta, where he won the World Series as a rookie in 1995.
"I didn't know much about the business when I first came to Atlanta, but I knew my goal was to play good enough, and long enough, to have this hopefully happen one day," Jones said from Braves Spring Training. "I am very, very grateful. The Braves made my decision easy."
The decision couldn’t have been hard for Atlanta.
Jones hit .364 with 22 home runs and 75 RBI last year. The 12-year vet has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite dealing with injuries, Jones is averaging 26 home runs, 86 RBI, 92 runs, and has a .342 batting average over the past three seasons.
For his career Jones has hit 408 home runs, 1,374 RBI, 1,378 runs, recorded 2,277 hits, and maintained a .310 batting average.
Jones has never struck out more than 99 times in a season.
"If there is such a thing as getting better with age, Chipper is that," Bobby Cox said, the only manager Jones has had in Atlanta. "It doesn't shock me at all what he has done. It was there from the beginning, the heart and passion to be the best. From the start, it didn't take a professional eye to see what we had. You're looking at Hall of Fame stuff."
While some may consider Jones’ numbers pedestrian, consider where he ranks all-time among baseball’s greatest switch hitters.
His .310 lifetime batting average ranks second to Frankie Frisch’s .316. His 408 home runs put him third behind Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504).
Jones has a legitimate shot at surpassing 500 home runs for his career. If he does so, and continues to maintain and improve on his batting average, a strong case will be made for Jones as one of, if not the, greatest offensive switch hitter in history.
Jones is the only switch hitter in history to have at least 300 home runs and maintain a .300 batting average.
Being able to avoid the steroid accusations has only amplified Jones’ career as not only a quality player, but as a role model for the young ballplayers across America, as well as his peers.
"Nowadays, so many players play the game for the first and 15th [pay days], but I never have," Jones said. "Certainly, I want to be compensated fairly for what I do, but I wasn't going to hold the organization over a barrel. And I never wanted to be a player who makes so much money that we can't stay competitive on the field. That was my main concern."
Jones’ enthusiasm for the game makes him a treat to watch, whether you are booing or cheering for him.
The fire still burns for the 1999 NL MVP.
"I was part of the beginning and the great years," Jones said. "I want to be part of the comeback now. I like what we've done. I would have been extremely disappointed if I went somewhere else and they came back without me."
Jones said he mulled over several options this winter, including retirement, but liked the moves that the franchise made to improve the team. Bringing in Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez, and Japanese sensation Kenshin Kawakami should booster their pitching staff, and the signing of Garrett Anderson gives the Braves another offensive threat.
Jones is due $10 million this season in the option year of a contract that began in 2006. Jones gets a $3 million signing bonus as part of the new deal, payable in $1 million installments each Jan. 15, starting next year.
Jones receives annual salaries of $13 million from 2010-12 and can earn $1.5 million a year in performance bonuses: $750,000 each for 135 and 140 games played.
His contract contains a $9 million option for 2013 that would become guaranteed if he plays in 123 games in 2012 or averages 127 games in 2011-12. The option price could increase by up to $4 million: $1 million each for 128, 133, 138, and 140 games in 2012 (or averages of 132, 137, 138, and 140 in 2011-12). In addition, he could earn $1.5 million in performance bonuses based on the earlier criteria.
If the vesting option fails to become guaranteed, the club would hold a $7 million option.
One thing is for sure, Chipper is a Brave...and he looks to stay that way for the remainder of his career.
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