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Home of the Brave?

Jones would have to leave big bucks on table to stay

Posted: Wednesday March 28, 2007 11:36AM; Updated: Wednesday March 28, 2007 2:32PM
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Andruw Jones' 342 home runs rank fourth on Atlanta's list of all-time leaders.
Andruw Jones' 342 home runs rank fourth on Atlanta's list of all-time leaders.
Doug Murray/WireImage.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andruw Jones can be compared to Willie Mays as a center fielder, and he can hit with a young Hank Aaron. (At 29, Jones has 342 home runs, the exact number that the other famous Brave had at that very age.) For another reason, 29 is a key number in Jones' life right now. Pretty soon, the other 29 teams may get their first crack at Jones since he was just a prodigy from Curacao.

Depending on whether Alex Rodriguez opts out of his Yankees/Rangers contract, Jones could be the best player on the free-agent market. Or he could still decide to stay in Atlanta -- and make a lot less money.

In an interview Tuesday with SI.com, Jones talked glowingly about being a Brave and spoke longingly about wanting to be one of those few players who never leaves his first team. Rather hopefully, he said he didn't know what Braves ownership will do about his contract situation. But he should know this: They won't come anywhere near Jones' "market value," which is what all free agents think about.

"I would love to stay with the Atlanta Braves. But everyone knows how the market is out there, and everyone is trying to get market value. So why shouldn't I get market value?" Jones told SI.com. "I'm looking for a contract that will keep me here. And if it doesn't happen, someone else will give me the money."

He's going to have the very same choice that's confronted many a Braves star over the years. He had that tough decision five years ago, and he chose to stay for less. Except now the difference isn't going to be $1 million or $2 million, or even $10 million over the term. Rather, it's going to be tens of millions.

Here's his call:

1. Will he take a salary that's "below market," maybe even well below market, to stay with the Braves, play in a city he loves, for a manager he loves and fulfill his goal to stay in one uniform?

2. Will he go somewhere else and play for a team that's willing to pay the going rate for a superstar center fielder, which could very well be $150 million?

His longtime teammate Chipper Jones has been through this drill, and he's been thinking about whether he will get to keep as teammates both Jones and pitcher John Smoltz.

"It depends on what that two guys are willing to sacrifice," said Chipper Jones, who signed a six-year, $90 million deal in 2001 that was restructured and extended in 2005. "Obviously, they're probably not going to get market value here in Atlanta. But I know if you were to ask them off the record, they'd probably both tell you they'd rather stay here.

"You don't know how much under the market the Braves are going to come in at. And how much [Andruw Jones and Smoltz] are willing to sacrifice."

And they both would have to sacrifice to stay. That part of the equation is no secret.

Not only is there the Braves' recent history of belt-tightening and reports that the incoming ownership group, Liberty Media, is in this more for the finances instead of trying to win, but also there are the words of Braves general manager John Schuerholz. He has made it clear that neither Jones nor any other star player should expect to receive their highest bid in-house.

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