Chipper Jones, who has been a staple in the Atlanta Braves lineup since 1995, will play this season under new management for the first time in his career.
How will this affect him? This is one of many questions that the aging superstar will have to answer in his 2011 campaign.
Whilst recovering from a career-threatening injury, the most prominent question on fan’s minds is whether or not he will be healthy enough to play, and play effectively.
The organization, and Chipper himself, seem confident that he will come back and be the starting third baseman for the club.
But will he stay healthy?
Jones has failed to play in over 140 games in every year but one since 2004. Prior to that, he appeared in 140+ games every season since his rookie year. Another serious injury could abruptly end the career of one of Atlanta’s sports legends.
2011 will be the first year that Jones will play for a manager other than Bobby Cox. These days, this is unheard of.
Fredi Gonzalez was a coach in the Braves system, and knows Chipper well, but the chemistry of 15 years under one manager is hard to follow. There may be some aspects of Gonzalez’s managing style that are new to Jones, and it may take some getting used to.
Assuming Jones stays healthy, what kind of production will he have? Following the 2008 season, in which he hit .364, his average dropped 100 points in 2009, and did not shift much in his abbreviated 2010 season.
While hitting .265 may be adequate, anything lower would cause an undesirable hole in the order, especially hitting third.
Losing playing time and sitting on the bench would be a dreadful way to end his career.
But Braves fans can be just as optimistic as Jones himself. Not to put too much weight into one stretch, but in the nine games prior to his injury, he accrued 12 hits in 30 at-bats, and looked like he was finally starting to heat up.
This made the season-ending injury all the more devastating.
Chipper believes that he will be healthy and productive, and the Braves have no reason to believe otherwise. He wants to prove to the organization and the fans that he still has some life left in his career.
This could very well be the last season Chipper Jones takes the field, and if it is, he and the Braves’ faithful would like to see him go out with a bang.
He is no longer the most potent offensive threat on the team, but he may be one of the most important.