Chipper's kindness provides flexibility

Braves' third baseman Chipper Jones has agreed to restructure his contract to help the Braves plan for the future. What does this mean for this offseason? Bill Shanks takes a look.

It can't be easy for anyone to turn $15 million dollars back in. Maybe if you make what these big leaguers make, it's not as big a deal as it seems for us common folk. But Chipper Jones has agreed to do just that, restructuring his contract to give the Braves some added flexibility over the next three years.

The Atlanta Constitution reported Thursday night that Jones has agreed to restructure the remaining years on his contract. He will make $11 million in each of the next three seasons, along with a $4 million dollar signing bonus, which will make the deal worth $12.333 million each season. His original contract called for the 2007 and 2008 seasons to be vesting options based on performance at $15 million. Now those years are guaranteed.

So what does this mean for the Braves? Well, in the short term, it means that the team will have some extra flexibility this winter. It also means there's one less albatross of a contract to worry about in the future.

With the Braves still planning to operate at a budget of $80 million dollars, here is the current payroll structure. This list includes estimates for arbitration and renewed contracts.

JOHN SMOLTZ - $11.000
TIM HUDSON - $6.5000
JOHN THOMSON - $4.750
JORGE SOSA - $2.000 (ARB)
HORACIO RAMIREZ - $1.250 (ARB)
KYLE DAVIES - $0.330 (RENEW)

CHRIS REITSMA - $2.000 (ARB)
JOHN FOSTER - $0.375 (RENEW)
BLAINE BOYER - $0.330 (RENEW)
MACAY MCBRIDE - $0.330 (RENEW)
JOEY DEVINE - $0.330 (RENEW)
BRAD BAKER - $0.320

JOHNNY ESTRADA - $1.500 (ARB)
BRIAN MCCANN - $0.340 (RENEW)

ADAM LAROCHE - $0.425 (RENEW)
MARCUS GILES - $4.000 (ARB)
WILSON BETEMIT - $0.340 (RENEW)
CHIPPER JONES - $12.333
PETE ORR - $0.340 (RENEW)

ANDRUW JONES - $13.500
RYAN LANGERHANS - $0.340 (RENEW)
JEFF FRANCOEUR - $0.335 (RENEW)
KELLY JOHNSON - $0.335 (RENEW)

MIKE HAMPTON - $6.5000 (INSURANCE)

TOTAL - $69.793 million

Obviously, there should be some give and take with those numbers, since we're not totally sure of the arbitration and renewal estimates. But the Braves are about $10 million under budget with the current makeup of their roster.

Will this gesture by Chipper allow the Braves to re-sign Rafael Furcal? Well, with the price tag getting close to $10 million a season, it seems unlikely. Obviously, unless the Braves made some other major moves, they'd be handcuffed and pretty much have little flexibility. But there's little doubt the Braves are going to make some other moves to free up more salary.

We all expect Johnny Estrada to be traded, and that would free up $1.5 million (estimated). It's very possible Chris Reitsma and his estimated $2 million salary could be dealt, and then with the depth in the starting rotation, the Braves could decide to deal away John Thomson and his $4.75 million dollar salary. Those three players could free up another $8.25 million dollars.

But even with the extra flexibility, if the Braves feel that Furcal's price tag is just too high, and that they do not want to get into a bidding war with the Cubs and Mets, they could decide to use that flexibility instead on other areas of need, particularly since Wilson Betemit seems ready to replace Furcal at shortstop.

They could use part of that money on a closer. Billy Wagner's price is rising everyday, but it might be lower for the team he really wants to play for. The Mets are tossing around the $10 million dollar figure, but it might not cost the Braves that much since Wagner has a desire to play in Atlanta. Then again, even with Wagner's salary, he'll be more expensive than Trevor Hoffman, who at 38 years old is just not going to cost that much.

Hoffman laughed when the Padres offered a two-year deal worth $10 million dollars. His agent countered with a three-year proposal for $25.5 million. It's doubtful the Braves would offer three years, but they might offer a two-year contract somewhere in between those two figures. If the Braves could get Hoffman, who saved 43 games last season, for $6.5 million per season, they would still have great flexibility.

This would mean the team could possibly spend more money on a starting pitcher. Two are available that might tempt John Schuerholz: Javier Vazquez of the Diamondbacks and Barry Zito of the Athletics. Vazquez has demanded a trade, and Bobby Cox has long loved the former Expo right-hander. That demand might make him more obtainable than Zito, particularly since the A's might be hesitant to deal with the Braves after getting taken in the Tim Hudson deal (so far).

The Furcal matter is the most pressing, and until there is a decision on that other large items must be put on hold. But there is zero doubt that the Braves are going to be active this winter, and Chipper Jones' grand gesture only gives John Schuerholz the flexibility that can make him very dangerous.



Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.


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