Andruw excited, ready to go

Andruw excited, ready to go about business

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Braves manager Bobby Cox said that Andruw Jones always looks good to him during the offseason, he confirmed that he didn't accompany his veteran center fielder to Japan in November.

"When I was in Japan, I was like 240 [pounds] because all we ate was fast food," said Jones, who was part of the Major League All-Star team that toured the Asian nation in November.

"We had McDonald's before the game and KFC [Kentucky Fried Chicken] after the game. It was a routine. We didn't miss one day."

Based solely on the slimmed-down figure he displayed when he arrived at the clubhouse at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex on Tuesday, it doesn't look like Jones has tasted a Big Mac or KFC Snacker over the course of the past 2 1/2 months.

"You can see his bellybutton now," Tim Hudson joked in reference to the 225-pound frame that Jones has gained with the help of a treadmill and improved diet.

When Jones came back from Japan, his wife bet him that she could drop 10 pounds (from 130 to 120) quicker than he could lose 20 pounds (from 240 to 220). While going to the Super Bowl and this past weekend's NBA's All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, the Gold Glove outfielder pretty much ruined his shot of reaching his target weight.

"She beat me because I partied a couple times too hard," said Jones, who said he only went to Vegas to attend Michael Jordan's birthday party.

Now with these mini-vacations behind him, Jones is determined to prove successful in what will be a momentous season. Entering the final year of his contract, there's a strong chance that he could be playing his final season for Cox.

Jones, who has played in Atlanta since 1996, said the contract negotiations won't prove to be a distraction. Unlike some other players from other teams, he's not providing his employer with any sort of ultimatum. Instead, he's more focused on doing whatever is necessary to get the Braves back into the postseason.

"Right now, I'm under contract with the Braves," Jones said. "I'm just happy to be here and happy to continue to be here. Hopefully when the season is over, we can get something accomplished so that I can stay here and be a Brave for life."

About a month ago, Jones told MLB.com that he'd like to receive an eight-year contract from the Braves. While the demand may seem outlandish to some, it is one that would mirror the lengthy ones that Alfonso Soriano (eight years, $136 million) and Vernon Wells (seven years, $126 million) in the offseason.

And with Scott Boras serving as his agent, Jones will likely find somebody more than willing to provide him with a similar contract. But with their ownership situation in flux, the Braves may not be able to compete for him on the free-agent market.

"We'll try everything that we can," Cox said. "He's a great talent and he's got one of the toughest agents to deal with, who isn't afraid to move players from their home team."

When Cox was asked by Rawlings to rank the best defensive players of the past 50 years, he had no trouble ranking Jones as the finest outfielder that he's seen. Having won nine consecutive Gold Gloves, the soon-to-be 30-year-old Jones is arguably the greatest outfielder the game has seen.

Throw in the fact that he could easily hit his 600th career homer by the time he's 38, and it's easy to see why he's a strong candidate for future enshrinement in Cooperstown. But whether or not he concludes his Hall of Fame-caliber career in Atlanta, will be determined by the events of the next seven or eight months.

Still, it appears to be a guarantee that he'll spend all of the 2007 season in a Braves uniform. He says he has clearly told general manager John Schuerholz that under no circumstances will he waive the no-trade right that he earned via his service time.

With his long-term future in doubt, Jones says he'll solely focus on his team's success this season. Seeing the organization's streak of 14 consecutive division titles end in 2006 has left a sour taste in his mouth.

"Baseball isn't going to change, even if you're a free agent or not," Jones said. "You've got to go out there and perform the way you need to perform. I'm just going to go out there and play the game that I learned to play when I was little. Whatever happens, happens."

When Jones used the term "little," he was referencing his youthful days in his native Curacao. He wasn't talking about the 200-pound frame he possessed back in 1996, when at the age of 19, he introduced himself to the world with homers in his first two career World Series at-bats.

After seeing Jones on Tuesday, Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez said he hadn't seen the center fielder that small since 1996. As for John Smoltz, who worked out with Jones during the offseason, he thinks his longtime teammate now looks a lot like he did entering his monstrous 2005 season, during which he hit a career-high 51 homers.

"It could be a great year," said Smoltz, while implying that Jones could be prepping for what will be the finest season of his already illustrious career.

When told of Perez's assessment, Jones laughed and then determined that he hadn't been this light entering a season since 1999. Entering his MVP-caliber '05 season, he says he weighed 235 pounds.

Jones' weight loss shouldn't have an astounding impact on his offensive production. But over the course of the 162-game season, he may find that his back and knees are spared some wear and tear.

"I'm excited and ready to go," Jones said. "I think it's going to be a good season. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."

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