It's painful to say, but Chipper's engraved position in the middle of the lineup and at 3B is coming to an end. Chip is under contract for the next 3 years and an option for 2013. Chipper has already mentioned early retirement if he doesn't feel he is playing to his ability and helping the team. If we see his average around where it was last year, I'm not sure that he will play passed 2010. No matter when he hangs it up, he will go down as one of the all time greatest Braves and 3B, and truly the best switch hitter of all time. But when he does retire, he is leaving us with a huge hole in the lineup and at 3B.
In the farm system, there is nothing to replace Chipper. The Eric Campbell project was a failure and left us with nothing. If we chose to handle this within, we have few option with a lot of "ifs". IF Chipper was to retire after 2010 and IF Glaus has a healthy successful year, there is a chance we bring him back to finish his career as the Braves 3B. IF Chipper retires following the 2011 or 2012 season's, it might give enough time to develop a pair of mid level prospects. IF Brandon Hicks gets the whole batting thing down, he will have a chance to show off that glove and play 3B or SS/2B, which would slide Prado or Escobar over to 3B. Another option would be IF Mycal Jones hits stride and earns his spot at 2B, Slotting Prado at 3B. These are all legitimate options, but alot needs to happen for that to work.
Another move the FW and Co. can do is to draft a 3B this summer and hope he develops in time to replace Chipper when he retires. Again this is a decent option, but if Chipper leaves after this season, it's unlikely anyone would be ready that soon.
That leaves us with one option, which I think is the smartest and surest decision. We aren't going to need a star at 3B. I'm a optimist and believe that within the next few years, our youngsters and current players will give us one the of the better offenses in the league. It would be great if Heyward, Freeman, Schafer, and CoJo or Milligan hit the potential became the players they are projected to be. However, that is an if, as Heyward is the only sure fire star of the group. With him, McCann, Esco and Prado, it would be ok if the others developed into "good" players rather then perennial All-Stars. With that being said, our best option is a FA signing that won't cost too much as we need to save money to lock up Heyward, Hanson and Jurrjens, along with Esco and Prado ending their Arb years. Based on the FA in each of the next 3 offseason's, whenever Chipper retires we have some quality, inexpensive options.
Depending on when Chipper retires, see what you think:
1. Schafer(L)/ McLouth(L)
5. Brain McCann(L)
7. Edwin Encarnacion(R)(29 in 2012)($5.175mil in 2010)
8. Kevin Kouzmanoff(R)(32 in 2013)($3.1mil in 2010)
Again, I'm doing this optimistically and assuming Freeman would be ready to hit 4th in 2012 and beyond and Schafer and Milliagn or CoJo develop. Still, as I said, if that happens we don't need a star and still those guys would be nice additions to a potentially great very good lineup. I think we could sign most of them to affordable 3 or 4 year deals to complete what would be an already pretty set lineup for a couple of year. Most would probably be signing for less than their 2010 salaries as well. Plus we would be saving money since McCann., Esco and Prado all hit FA after the 2013 season.