JUPITER, Fla. – After Chipper Jones discussed encouraging signs he saw from the struggling Braves in a 5-4 loss to St. Louis Monday, the third baseman confided his most difficult spring training has him wondering how much more he can take.
“I’ve said it a million times, it’s hell getting old,” said Jones, who’ll be 40 next month and sounds as if he’s leaning increasingly toward retirement after this season.
His balky right knee is hurting even more than he thought it would. He went 0-for-3 on Monday and is 0-for-8 with three walks in four games this spring, having missed five games with leg soreness after playing the Grapefruit League opener.
“The body is starting to tell me every morning when I wake up that it’s getting close,” he said. “I’m signed through the end of this year. If I play in a certain amount of games, I got an option for next year. I don’t know what next year entails.
“I don’t know if I can make it through this year.”
Jones, regarded as a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, is entering the last 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 123 games in 2012.
He played 126 games in 2011 despite a stint on the disabled list for arthroscopic right knee surgery, which kept him out of the All-Star game. He had reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee in 2010, the second time he’s had that procedure.
He hit .275 with a .344 on-base percentage and .470 slugging percentage last season, well off his .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.
Still, 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. But so far this spring, Jones doesn’t look capable of legging out too many more doubles.
“The big reason for me coming back was my teammates wanted me to come back,” he said. “I still feel like I can be a productive major leaguer. We’ll give it this year and see how it feels.”
He’s endured difficult spring trainings before, but this spring has been even tougher than a year ago when he was coming back from major knee surgery.
“Yeah, and I thought I was in pretty good shape,” he said. “Because I knew it was going to be hard coming into spring. But I was nowhere close to being ready. For the first 10 days we were here, it was painful. As long as I can take care of my knees. My knees have given me the most problems through the years. I dare say if I hadn’t had five knee surgeries I’d be getting around a little better and I’d be feeling a better about things going on my 40th birthday.
“As I alluded to earlier, this game is going to wear you down, whether you have major injuries such as two torn ACLs, menisucus tears – I’ve got no meniscus in the right knee. That takes its toll. I’ve got to go when I can go and tell [manager] Freddie [Gonzalez] when I can’t.”