Andruw wants to finish career in Atlanta

Andruw wants to finish his career in Atlanta

ATLANTA -- If he were simply fueled by financial greed, Andruw Jones would have spent much of this past offseason salivating. With every passing day, it seemed a different, less-accomplished outfielder was receiving one of those $100 million contracts that have become rather common as a result of the new and fruitful free-agent market.

But instead of focusing on the riches that other outfielders, such as Vernon Wells and Alfonso Soriano, have received, Jones says he has spent much of this winter maintaining the mind-set that his sole intention is to spend his entire career in a Braves uniform.

"I know how the market is right now, and I know a lot of teams are paying a lot of money for guys right now," Jones said. "But my heart is in Atlanta. I would love to finish my career in Atlanta.

"I'm not saying I'll play for cheap when the market is so high; I won't do that. But I'm going to do my best to stay here. It's up to the Braves whether they want to keep me or not."

With Scott Boras serving as his agent, there's a popular belief that Jones will find himself counting his riches outside of Atlanta by the time the 2008 season arrives. It's no secret that Braves general manager John Schuerholz would love for his business world to exist without the presence of Boras.

But as Jones expresses, Boras will simply work as the negotiator in any upcoming contract talks. In the end, there will be only one true decision-maker.

"The main thing is that the decision is up to me," Jones said. "It doesn't matter what kind of agent I've got. It doesn't matter who represents me. It could be [Braves general manager John] Schuerholz's best friend or it can be Schuerholz's worst enemy. But I'm the one who has to make the decision."

Sticking to his rigid practice of keeping contract negotiations private, Schuerholz isn't providing any comment concerning Jones' future. Instead, Atlanta's GM is focusing his thoughts solely on the upcoming season, one which will almost definitely be strengthened by the nine-time Gold Glove center fielder's presence.

"My entire focus and emphasis right now is to make the 2007 team good enough to make everybody forget about last year," said Schuerholz, who saw his team's unprecedented streak of 14 consecutive division titles come to an end during the 2006 season.

While Schuerholz won't make a public comment, Jones is quick to say that he would love to get an eight-year contract that would allow him to essentially end his career with the Braves.

Jones would be just 38 years old at the conclusion of an eight-year deal, and seemingly not quite ready for retirement. But his current mind-set is that he doesn't want to reach a point of his playing career where it becomes obvious that he's no longer capable of providing the power and defensive skills that have made him a surefire Hall of Fame candidate.

"I just want to go out, play the game and be consistent," said Jones, who has won a Gold Glove Award every season dating back to 1998. "When I'm done and when I leave the game, I'll be leaving the game on a high level."

Although insurance covers a contract for just three years at a time, teams have shown a willingness this winter to provide lengthy contracts. Soriano, who is a year older than the soon-to-be 30-year-old Jones, got an eight-year, $136 million contract from the Cubs this offseason.

While Soriano obviously is more dangerous on the bases and a little more consistent at the plate, Jones is clearly the superior defensive player. In addition, over the past three seasons, he's hit 11 more homers and tallied 58 more RBIs than the Cubs' expensive new outfield addition.

When looking to compare Jones to a player who is comparable both defensively and offensively, Wells, who signed a seven-year, $126 million extension with the Blue Jays in December, appears to be the best match.

Again, Wells has occasionally shown more plate consistency, but he, too, hasn't produced the power numbers that put him in Jones' category. Most of Wells' riches came based on the fact that he hit .303 in 2006.

But combined during the 2004-05 seasons, Wells hit just .271 -- which is just four points greater than Jones' career batting average.

With all of this in mind, Boras obviously will have plenty of ammunition when he goes to the negotiating table. But Jones insists his contract won't have to match those received by Soriano and Wells. It simply must be a fair one.

"I'm not saying that the only thing I'm doing is playing for money," Jones said. "I play the game because I love the game. But I'm getting paid for it and I need to get paid fair enough based on what kind of player that I am."

Since the beginning of 2000, Jones has averaged 37 homers per season. If he were able to simply average 30 homers per season over the next eight years, he'd have 582 career homers and still be just 38 years old. Realizing there are just seven other players who have reached that mark, it's apparent that Jones' special talents extend beyond the ones that have made him arguably the greatest defensive center fielder to play the game.

"My thing is to go out there and play every day," Jones said. "I always want to do something to help my team win."

"I know how the market is right now, and I know a lot of teams are paying a lot of money for guys right now. But my heart is in Atlanta. I would love to finish my career in Atlanta."
-- Andruw Jones

Part of Jones' desire to remain with the Braves is to continue his close relationship with manager Bobby Cox, who has seen his determined center fielder play in at least 153 games during each of his 10 full Major League seasons.

With Cox approaching his 66th birthday, there has been some thought that he's nearing retirement. But Jones doesn't share that belief and believes that the veteran manager could be around for the entirety of that eight-year contract that he's hoping to receive from the Braves.

"He'll be managing for a long time," Jones said. "That's my dad. He's such a great manager. I don't know if I could ever play for somebody else who could be as great as he is as a person and a manager."

When it came time for Jones to sign his current contract after the 2001 season, it was his actual father who came from Curacao to help with the negotiations. This time, Boras will almost certainly be given a chance to assume his role as the chief negotiator.

Jones will receive $13.5 million in 2007, making him a relative bargain in relation to the current market. The physically hefty Carlos Lee, who could prove to be a defensive liability in left field, rocked the market this winter when the Astros signed him to a six-year, $100 million deal.

Knowing that Lee will earn $16.67 million per year, it's likely that Jones could get a team to provide him an annual salary of $20 million. But when asked if he would stay in Atlanta with an eight-year, $128 million offer ($16 million per season), the veteran Brave indicated that it's quite possible that he would.

"It's not a bad contract for eight years," Jones said. "Sure, you could go somewhere else and get [a better annual salary]. But I don't think about that. I'm looking to stay here. ... My thing is, I want to win. Since I've been in the big leagues, I've been winning. I don't want to finish my career as a loser."

With the Braves ownership situation still in flux, it doesn't seem that Jones will get his wish of having a deal done before the start of Spring Training. He says he doesn't want to negotiate during the season.

But when the season ends, Jones is hoping that he receives the fair offer that will allow him to remain a Brave and, at the same time, allow him to gain the riches that will allow him to continue to supporting his family far into the future.

"I'm not greedy," Jones said. "It's not that I'm not set [financially]. But you want to be completely set to the point where your son's son doesn't have to do anything, if that's possible."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.