He’ll turn 40 in April, had surgery on each knee in the past two years, and has tired of speculation about when he’ll retire. But Chipper Jones is not tired of playing baseball.
Atlanta’s iconic third baseman is preparing for his 19th season with the Braves, and Tuesday he made it clear the 2012 season might not be his last.
“As long as I stay healthy and I’m having fun, I’m going to keep going,” he said before an informal hitting session at Turner Field. “I sit here with three weeks to go before spring training and I’m not ready to say this is it.”
Jones is entering the final guaranteed year of a contract that will pay $14 million in 2012. The deal includes a $7 million team option for 2013, which vests automatically at $9 million if he plays at least 123 games in 2012.
He played 126 games in 2011 despite a stint on the disabled list for arthroscopic knee surgery, which kept him out of the All-Star game.
The 2013 option has escalators that could add $1 million each for 128, 133, 138 and 140 games played in 2012. (Jones last played as many as 140 in 2009.)
He hit .275 with a .344 on-base percentage and .470 slugging percentage in 2011, well off the .304/.402/.533 career line. He had 18 homers and 70 RBIs; the only time he’s had fewer of either was 2010, when he had 18 homers and 46 RBIs in 95 games before season-ending surgery for a torn anterior cructiate ligament in his left knee.
However his 33 doubles in 2011 were his second-most since 2003 and his .814 on-base-plus-slugging percentage was third among National League third basemen.
Also, Jones’ .976 fielding percentage was second among major league third basemen.
“I still feel that I can go out and play a solid third base, which I did last year,” said the seven-time All-Star and former league MVP. “And I still feel like I can be productive in the middle of the lineup. If it’s the 3-hole or the 5-hole or the 6-hole — it doesn’t bother me where I hit.
“I think if I struggle with the knee injuries again and I’m not having any fun, and if the team’s struggling, obviously, I’ll make that [retirement] decision when it hits me. As of right now, I’m signed through the end of this year and we’ve got an option for next year. I’m certainly going to take everything into account, but my body will tell me when that day comes. It’ll be cut-and-dried.”
Jones thought his body might be telling him that in November, when he felt pain in his right knee playing in teammate Brian McCann’s charity softball tournament.
“I came out that thinking, I can’t play with my knee feeling like this,” he said. “And this was after a month [of rest]. I said I was going to give it till Jan. 1.”
He got another scare in November when he stepped in a hole in the dark while hunting on property he owns in Kansas, the second such incident in as many winters for the avid outdoorsman. Jones said he felt a pop in his knee and was so concerned that he flew back to Atlanta for an MRI.
He decided to wait and tell Braves officials after he got the MRI, figuring there was no need to worry them unless he had to. The MRI showed no damage and Jones said scar tissue was determined to be the likely cause of the pop and discomfort.
After resting his knee until Jan. 1, Jones said it felt good when he started hitting.
“As I was working out early in the offseason I was having a lot of trouble right-handed, just like I was at the end of the season,” he said. “Really getting down into the swing and using my legs, I couldn’t do that. It was still bothering me at Mac’s softball game. But I guess the six weeks staying off of it, getting back into the groove in January — I had all my faculties, all my abilities since Jan. 1.
“It feels good to be able to walk into the cage and be able to work on stuff, get myself into shape not having to worry about how my knee’s going to feel.”