Braves need to let Andruw walk With the Braves season coming to an end next week, we are going to read and hear more talk about the future of outfielder Andruw Jones. His contract is coming up, as we all know, and it will be a very big decision for Braves' management.
So let's make it easy for them right now. Let Andruw Jones go.
Let him walk away. Let him sign with another team for an outlandish amount of money that will make us all weak in the knees. Let him find his lottery ticket and punch it elsewhere.
Of course, it's easier said than done. It's easy to believe this is the right call, the right decision. It's easy to picture Andruw Jones hitting .220 in another uniform and say we won't care. But the reality will be difficult when we finally do see him play center field better than anyone in a uniform other than the one with the tomahawk.
We all hoped Andruw Jones would make this difficult for us – and for the Braves. We hoped he'd have a career year and make it almost impossible to sign him to a monster contract. Instead, he's had a horrible season – one that has made most of us count down the days until he's gone.
Could any of us have predicted that? No way. We all believed he would have a season like he had the last two years, when he averaged 46 home runs and 128.5 RBI. We all believed he would put up numbers so unbelievable we would be begging him to stay, pleading with him to take the hometown discount to stay for the next six or seven years.
But instead, it's been a nightmare. There is no way to spin this; no way for even his skillful agent to try to make these numbers look good. Yes, Andruw is still a great defensive player in the outfield. But his offense took the year off. He became a poor man's Darin Erstad instead of a powerful threat in the lineup.
Jones started off in April like it was any other of his seasons. He hit .261, which is right near his career batting average. His production in April was okay, five home runs and 19 RBI. It was not a great month, but nothing horrible or nothing to cause serious concern. But since May 1st, Jones has hit only .214 with 20 home runs and 72 RBI in 448 at bats. He hit only .143 in June and is hitting .196 so far in September.
We could supply more numbers, more breakdowns. But you know the story. Andruw has been horrible offensively this season, simply horrible.
And therefore it makes the question about Jones's future a bit more difficult to answer. It also brings up additional questions to ponder when trying to determine what the Braves should do in this situation.
What if this is just an off year and Jones rebounds next season with more of his ‘average' numbers? Yeah, maybe he will rebound next season. But what has to trouble you is that he's never, and I mean never had a bad season like this. Andruw averaged 32.4 home runs and 97.6 RBI for seven seasons between 1998 and 2004. He's on pace for 27 home runs and 99 RBI this season, so that's not too far from those ‘average' numbers.
But the batting average is what you have to worry about. Jones' lowest average prior to this season was the .251 clip he put up in 2001. So that's thirty points higher than what his average is this season. Jones' career average is .263, so for all of a sudden to see him dip this far down with his average, in his contract season, is troubling.
Chances are Jones will have a higher average than .222 next season. But you have to wonder if he can even get it back up to his career average. That is a logical question and genuine concern. Is this a simple mirage, or a bump in the road, or is it going to be the norm for the rest of his career?
Jones is only 30 years old, but he's been running around in the Braves' outfield for twelve seasons. Has all the diving and running simply caught up with Jones? Is he now going to become an ‘average' hitter while remaining an above average fielder as he gets older?
Seeing Chipper Jones break down a bit as he entered his mid-30s has given the Braves a first-hand look at what can happen to a player. So with Andruw being more ‘physical' in his defense than Chipper has been, isn't that even more of a concern as to how that will affect Andruw as he continues to grow older?
Andruw's agent, the devil himself Scott Boras, is going to want premium money no matter what. He won't care about Andruw's .222 batting average and .734 OPS. He'll only want to get Jones the most money possible. He'll bill Andruw as a once-in-a-generation player that is ready to rebound from his lackluster season to once again be a top talent.
And if Andruw had simply put up his average numbers, the Braves would be crazy not to want him back. But the enormity of the disappointment with Jones' season now causes even his biggest fans to wonder what will be the limit. How far will a team go to sign Jones?
The first decision will be the Braves' decision. They first have to decide if they even want him back. They first have to decide if they even want to offer him any contract. They know that regardless of how bad a season this has been for Jones, his agent is going to want him to get a raise – and a big one. So the Braves have to make the first call.
They have to decide what's in the best interest of the organization for the long-term. There cannot be any sentimental reasons for wanting him back. The Braves should just say no.
This offseason will be the first under the ownership of Liberty Media. We're not sure what to expect, and maybe GM John Schuerholz isn't even sure what to expect. But with this club missing the playoffs for the second season in a row, there are major decisions to be made. It's a critical time for the future of this organization, and the decision to bring back a player that will want ‘franchise-player' money but may instead be turning into ‘just another player' should not be difficult.
If Liberty increases the payroll to $90 million, that's going to mean that Scott Boras is going to want his client to get close to 22% of the Braves budget. How can you pay a player that has been this disappointing that much money? Again, if he had hit 45 home runs and driven in 129 again, maybe it would be easier to re-sign him. But it's not like he had ‘just' an off year. He had a horrible year – one that no one could have predicted. So you reward that with a raise?
The market will create the opportunity for Jones to receive a raise, even though he deserves a pay cut. What would your boss say if you wanted to be one of the highest paid in your field after you had not even had an average year for your work history? He'd tell you to hit the road, wouldn't he? And that's what the Braves should do right here with Andruw Jones.
Look, I am a huge Andruw Jones fan, like most of you. But there's no logic in bringing this rally killer back next season. If he would accept a $12 million dollar a year salary, I'd be interested. But we all know that's not going to happen. Even a hometown discount would allow for that. Regardless of the poor stats, Jones will command a deal between $15-$18 million dollars.
And the Braves just need to move on. They need to take the $14.5 million Jones made in 2007 and spend it elsewhere. Yes, take maybe half of that money and get Jones' replacement. Sign Mike Cameron, a decent player, to a two-year deal averaging $7.5 million. Or offer Aaron Rowand part of that big money. But the rest must go on pitching. That's what this team needs more than to bring back a fan favorite who despite having a horrible year wants to win the lottery. This team needs pitching, and using part of Jones' salary will go a long way in finding them some.
We're going to see Jones on SportsCenter making catches for a long time. It'll be difficult to see him do it in a Red Sox uniform or maybe wearing a Washington cap. But to potentially handcuff this team with a contract that could seriously backfire is just not logical. Sure, if the Braves had an unlimited payroll, you could bring Jones back at even $15 million a year and hope that he will rebound to even his average numbers. But for a club that has a ‘workable' budget, that's just too big a gamble.
So the issue will be debated and discussed, by all of us and by the Braves. But the decision really needs to be simple. The Braves need to let Andruw Jones go. It won't be easy, but for the future of this organization, it's simply the right call.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braves need to let Andruw go
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