This will be the first season in 18 years the Atlanta Braves take the field without their legendary third baseman. The moves the organization has made this offseason makes Chipper Jones’ retirement all the more real. This is a whole different era of Braves baseball now.
Who will replace Chipper Jones as team leader?
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Catcher Brian McCann has fell into this position. And fittingly so, he’s caught John Smoltz. He’s batted behind Jones. He’s a six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and did I mention he’s only 29? True, his injury-plagued 2012 performance was a far cry from his 2008-2011 seasons, but don’t count the Georgia native out just yet.
Chipper Jones recently proclaimed McCann the new face of the franchise.
“He’s a great kid,” Jones expressed to reporters in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “He’s a great player, and he’s the kind of guy you want to build a ball club around.”
McCann leads all major league catchers with 944 games played since his 2006 campaign, where he took over the starting catcher job from then-catcher Johnny Estrada. Unfortunately, he’s become the Joe Mauer of the National League.
McCann doesn’t blame injuries for his recent troubles, but acknowledges that he’s morphed into some bad habits, becoming a bit of a pull-hitter at the plate.
With the nagging shadow of a one-year contract looming, the Braves are still contemplating re-signing him. McCann knows he must get back into true form in order to stay apart of the team he followed as a kid.
Who will replace Chipper Jones at the plate?
A one-time replacement for Jones, Martin Prado was apart of the January 20 trade that sent him and a handful of players to Arizona for Justin Upton and infielder Chris Johnson. This trade united Upton with his older brother B.J. Upton, who signed with the Braves in November after the World Series.
The Upton Brothers bring 20 more home runs, 80 more hits and 70 more RBI’s to an Atlanta lineup that was incapable of winning the NL Wild Card against a weaker St. Louis team. This is a sure upgrade from the loss of center fielder Michael Bourn, who rejected the Braves’ initial $13.3 million dollar qualifying offer, making him a free agent.
The Upton brothers join Jason Heyward in what has become one of the more explosive outfields in the National League. These three will grace the better half of the lineup.
Who could be the next Chipper Jones?
Don’t be surprised if Freddie Freeman’s name is tossed alongside the top first basemen in the NL this year. In his last two seasons with the Braves — with the exception of his first season where he only played 20 games– he’s posted solid numbers, much like Jones did at the beginning of his career. He’s also mostly remained injury-free to date– knock on wood. Freeman will likely bat in the cleanup spot, unless McCann returns to his old self and rises in the lineup.
On the pitching side, Craig Kimbrel was the biggest surprise of the 2011 Braves. He made sure his Rookie of the Year award-winning season was no fluke, becoming the best relief man for the second year in a row. He made his second All-Star team appearance and finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting. The right-hander will once again lead the team’s bullpen, and be a great follow-up for a mediocre rotation.
And then there is manager Fredi Gonzalez. He became the successor to Bobby Cox in 2011. Gonzalez helms this new Atlanta club that will make the Nationals sweat much more this season. It will be a tight race in the East this season.
In a recent interview, Chipper Jones expressed how he loves retired life. In four years, the eight-time All-Star will be eligible for the Hall of Fame. So, while Jones places that fresh dip of retirement in his lip and basks in the sun of his new fishing spot, the Atlanta Braves are behind him now. The organization has moved on, too.