24. What is Chipper Jones long-term position?

BravesCenter continues its 35-part series on the top questions facing the Braves this offseason with more on Chipper Jones. Will he remain at third base, or do the Braves plan to move him once again? Bill Shanks takes a look at the issue.

Chipper Jones did a great thing when he offered to move to the outfield a few years ago. It was an unselfish act that showed how much of a team player he really was. But it set a precedent, and now that Chipper is getting up there in years and has battled injuries the past two seasons, many wonder if he'll wind up doing it again.

We've just addressed the situation with Chipper's injuries. They have hampered his last two seasons, limiting him to 123 games per year from 2004-2005. When he moved back to third base from the outfield, many believed it would help save his legs, which were exposed a bit when he proved he was an average outfielder at best. But now that he's continued to suffer with nagging injuries, you have to wonder if another change would be for the best.

The sad part is he's been exceptional since he returned to third base. It's almost like he never left there, and somehow he's better now at third than before he took off for the outfield. If he's healthy, Chipper is one of the best defensive players in the game. He's been that good since he returned to the hot corner.

But there are a few things that make another position change a possibility. First, some say a move to first base would help his injury situation. There's definitely less stress on the body at first than at third, where it can sometimes resemble a dunking contest at a fall festival, complete with the bulls eye in the middle of your jersey. Could playing first base extend Jones' career? Possibly.
And the main reason for any discussion of another position change for Jones is young Andy Marte, who is arguably the best third base prospect in the game of baseball. Marte would not be harmed by more time in AAA, but a good spring training could prove that he's ready, even if he doesn't, at least today, have a position to step into.

Jones told me in an interview last winter that the Braves had not approached him about a position change, and if they did, he'd consider it. But make no mistake about it: he is very happy to be back at third base. He feels that is his home, and that he was misplaced in the outfield.

A year later, the questions remain. Jones knows that Marte is a great prospect. He admitted in spring training that eventually the Braves would have to make room for Marte in the Atlanta lineup. But with Jones still being a star player and loving third base, what is the team to do with their young phenom?

Do not expect Chipper Jones to return to the outfield. That would be the best scenario for the organization, since Marte could step into third and they already have Adam LaRoche at first base with Scott Thorman right behind him. Ryan Langerhans has a chance to be a good outfielder, but if Jones could and would go back to the outfield, they'd make the switch in a heartbeat. But it's just not going to happen.

If the Braves concede that Jones will be their third baseman for the next three years, then they might trade Marte this winter. However, his recent injury history may force them to keep Marte for insurance. But if the Braves believe Jones would be more productive offensively if he was at first base defensively, then they may decide that both LaRoche and/or Thorman could be expendable.

It's hard to predict what will happen here. The Braves have an untradeable commodity in Jones due to his huge contract. But if healthy, Chipper is still one of the best players in the game and obviously makes the Atlanta lineup better. For now, there's no reason to move Jones. Marte might be very good one day, but he's still only 22 years old. So it's not like the Braves have to make a decision on him now. It won't hurt Marte to spend a little more time in Triple-A, which would also postpone a decision on him until it's absolutely necessary.

And that's usually what the Braves do: wait on a major decision until it's absolutely necessary. If Marte was 100% ready, it would be a more pressing issue. However, as the Braves' plan ahead this winter, they have to throw out possibilities for the next several years, and that must include a possible move of Chipper Jones from third base, whether it's to make room for Andy Marte or to lessen the stress on his aging body.

If they feel first base is his long-term position, then the Braves might decide to trade LaRoche, even if a move is not expected immediately. They might be able to get by with putting Thorman over there until Jones made the move.

Chipper has moved before, and he might just move again. While this is not an immediate dilemma, it is an option for the Braves, and options are what make this team dangerous every single season.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.


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