Why Andruw Jones WILL be a Brave Next Year

Hold the phone! How could we possibly resign Andruw after the year he's had, after being deposed from the cleanup spot, and after we acquired Mark Teixeira. He's a seventh place hitter after all, and not a very good one at that. This is a guy whose slugging percentage - a measure of his power - is less than Yunel Escobar's and every other regular in the Braves' lineup this year. We don't want to sign this guy, so who else would want to sign him, right?

The Interested Parties

Andruw and especially his agent Scott Boras want a contract similar to what Vernon Wells got from the Blue Jays this year - 7 years, $126 million. At least that was the thinking before this season started and the nightmare began for AJ. So they are hoping to get Andruw paid somewhere upwards of $18 million a year. When looking at what other teams Andruw could go to, we can take half of all MLB teams out of contention because their salary allotment is not suited to paying any one player that much money. What's left are the top-15 teams in salary (according to this site).

We can rule out teams that already have a center fielder, so the Red Sox, Mets, Angels, Dodgers, Mariners, Tigers, Cardinals, and Astros are out as possible destinations. With that elimination we have narrowed our list to 7 teams, which includes the Braves. Andruw has said that he doesn't want to play in a cold climate city, so we should rule out the Yankees, White Sox, Cubs, Orioles, and Phillies. That leaves us with two teams - the Braves and the Giants.

Even if some of the teams I ruled out become interested (or Andruw is interested in them), the choices are few and far between. Certainly the Giants may want a middle of the order replacement for Bonds, and Jones could fit the bill for them; and they do have a history of overpaying for underperforming veterans, so perhaps they have their sights set on our center fielder.

The Stark Factor

We're about to see how hard it will be for Scott Boras to sell Andruw Jones as the "top defensive center fielder in the game," when the centerpiece chapter of Jayson Stark's book painted him as "the most overrated center fielder of all time." GM's now have to contend with trying to sign a slugger who hit somewhere in the .220s and the added media and fan scrutiny of being called the "most overrated" at his position. Even if a GM believes that is untrue, the fact remains that AJ's defense has been tarnished by that statement, and if nothing else it may erode the dollars per year or the length of contract that any GM would be willing to give out.

The Maddux Model

So now the how of why Andruw will be a Brave in 2008. Don't get me wrong, we won't go out of our way to try and sign him to a long term deal or even a two or three year deal - not for $18 million, not for any length of time. What we will do is offer Andruw Jones salary arbitration. With two potential draft picks as compensation and teams like the Giants, Orioles, and White Sox finishing too low to have their picks stolen, the logical move for the Braves brass is to offer Jones arbitration thinking that one of those teams wouldn't be afraid to sign him since they wouldn't lose any draft picks in the first round because of it.

The general thinking by offering him arbitration is if he gets signed, then you've added two extra picks in next year's draft. If he accepts arbitration and he and the team do not agree on a contract, then through the arbitration process he likely won't win for what he and Boras would likely ask for ($18 million), and the Braves would probably end up giving him only a slight raise from this year's salary - something in the order of $15 million - affordable to the salary-increased Liberty Braves, even with Teixeira on the books.

In 2003 Greg Maddux was a free agent who many thought would cash in with a pretty big payday from another interested major league team. The Braves offered him salary arbitration so they could get the draft picks that would come to them as compensation for losing him as a free agent. The winter of 2003 went by and there were no takers for Mad Dog, so he and his agent - Scott Boras - decided to accept the Braves offer of arbitration and take their chances in the free agent market a year later.

Andruw's no fool, and neither is Boras. They both know what AJ is capable of, and they both no doubt believe that this year was a fluke. If that is their thinking and there are no teams willing to come close to what their asking price is, then letting Andruw stay in Atlanta where he is comfortable for a "make-good" year would make a lot of sense.

From the Braves' perspective, letting Andruw go and getting nothing in return for him may be a hard pill to swallow. Add to it that there is no one with experience ready to play center field in the majors in the Braves organization, and most other "reasonably priced" free agent alternatives would be a major step down from even Andruw's horrible year. My view is simple, no other team is going to give Jones the contract he's asking for, he likely wouldn't do a one-year deal somewhere he's not comfortable or familiar with, and the Braves would be fools not to offer him arbitration. If he does come back next year, the conventional thinking is that surely he wouldn't be as bad as he's been this year, and the Andruw Jones of 2008 would be closer to the Andruw Jones of 2005.

Before it's over I'm sure we'll all be sick of hearing about it - the daily Andruw Jones rumors - but it will be interesting to see how it unfolds this winter. Now you know how I think it will play out.

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