photo by Tim Evearitt
There's no longer reason to speculate about Andruw Jones' future in Atlanta. General manager John Schuerholz announced on Tuesday afternoon that his plans for the 2008 season no longer include the Gold Glove center fielder.
Just two days into the offseason, Schuerholz has already answered the primary question he would've been asked over the next few weeks and months. He was able to make this quick decision
when it became apparent that the contractual demands of Jones' agent, Scott Boras, weren't even close to what the Braves were willing and capable of offering.
Jones, who has been one of the team's most popular figures since his arrival in 1996, was informed of the decision during a Tuesday meeting with Schuerholz.
Even before Jones hit a career-worst .222 with 26 homers and 94 RBIs this year, there was doubt concerning his return to Atlanta.
When the Braves acquired Boras client Mark Teixeira at this year's trade deadline, Jones' desire to play his entire career with the Braves became even cloudier.
An arbitration-eligible player, Teixeira has a salary for the 2008 season that could exceed $12 million. In other words, he'll be assuming many of the dollars that were spent on Jones, who made $14.5 million this past season.
Jones has said that he is seeking at least a five-year deal, and despite this year's struggles, Boras still believes his client's history makes him worthy of demanding an annual salary of approximately $20 million.
Teixeira will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2008 season, and the Braves would certainly be more willing to sign him to a long-term deal that would include a similar annual salary. At the end of 2008 season, the switch-hitting first baseman will be just 28 years old, and he will stand as one of the most attractive figures on the free-agent market.
Though Jones will likely garner his 10th consecutive Gold Glove in November, Teixeira also stands as one of the game's best defensive players at his position. During his two months in Atlanta, he showed why he won Gold Gloves with the Rangers the past two years.
But Teixeira's true value is realized through the consistency and power he shows from both sides of the plate. In 132 combined games with the Braves and Rangers this year, he hit .306 with 30 homers and 105 RBIs.
In the 54 games he played after joining the Braves on Aug. 1, Teixeira hit .317 with 17 homers and 56 RBIs. He did this after taking the cleanup spot from Jones, who in his 86 games in the fourth spot collected just 64 RBIs.
With Jones out of the picture, the Braves will look for his replacement through free agency or a trade.
What about the possibility of finding someone within the organization?
A natural center fielder, Schafer forced his way up the list with an incredible breakout season. After two disappointing seasons to start his professional career, Schafer led the minors in hits this year and finished second in total bases. He raised his average over 70 points and finished with double-digits in doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases.
Most of this was done in Myrtle Beach, a horrible park for hitters. The 21-year old Schafer is a five-tool player who has drawn comparisons to Grady Sizemore. Take this kind of offense and what has been described as gold-glove potential defense in center and you have one of the most exciting outfield prospects in the game. He almost certainly won’t be starting 2008 in the majors, but don’t be surprised if he is up mid-season if there is a need.
After the miracle that left Heyward to the Braves at number fourteen this past June, this 18-year old Georgia product impressed in his first taste of professional ball.
The 2007 first rounder hit .302/.354/.488 in 43 at bats between Rome and the Gulf Coast League. It isn’t a big sample size, but that should tell you just how talented a player Heyward is.
The 6′4″ 220 lb first baseman and corner outfielder brings impressive contact ability, plate discipline, base running, defense, and especially power potential to the field for such a young left-handed power hitter. His body type and tools have drawn comparisons to a left-handed Derek Lee, something that I am sure Braves fans are happy to here.
Heyward will most likely start next year with Rome and could progress fairly quickly through the minors.
Jones, who finally translated his athleticism and tools into production, was rewarded with a September call-up this season. Despite hitting only .158 with Atlanta, it was the cap to a very impressive season.
The 23-year old left-fielder split his time between Mississippi and Richmond this season, hitting .295 with 19 homers and 100 RBIs. He may not have the highest ceiling of the Braves minor leaguers, but his potential as a good all-around left fielder could be realized as soon as next year.
Jones could see time next year as part of a left-field platoon or may earn the everyday right field job if Jeff Francoeur is moved to center.
photo by Tim Evearitt