Maybe we shouldn’t ask Chipper Jones if he plans to play in 2013.
The 2012 season will be challenging enough.
“I don’t know what next year entails,” Jones said Monday, as his Braves dropped to a major-league-worst 1-10 with a loss to the Cardinals. “I don’t know if I can make it through this year.”
Jones is coming off a season in which he earned his seventh All-Star selection and posted a solid .814 OPS in 126 games. Asked about the possibility of retirement after this year, the third baseman said, “The body is starting to tell me, every morning when I wake up, that it’s getting close.”
Jones’ contractual status adds another layer of intrigue. He will earn $13 million this season, and his durability over the coming months could determine whether the Braves want him to return in 2013. His contract includes a clause that will guarantee him a $9 million salary next year if he appears in 123 games. Given his physical hardships already, it’s hard to imagine he will get there.
“The big reason for coming back was my teammates wanted me to come back,” he said. “And I still feel like I can be a productive major leaguer. We’ll give it this year and see how I feel.”
Jones will turn 40 next month, and he isn’t hiding how difficult this spring has been. He’s hitless in eight at-bats — “I don’t have a batting average yet,” as he put it — and acknowledged that this has been the most physically challenging camp of his career.
While it can be dangerous to read too much into Grapefruit League results, the early showings for Jones — and the Braves in general — have raised doubts about the coming season.
“I thought I was in pretty good shape,” Jones said. “I knew it was going to be hard coming into spring, but I was nowhere close to being ready. For the first 10 days we were here, it was painful.
“My knees have given me the most problems through the years. I dare say if I hadn’t had five knee surgeries, I’d be getting around a little better and be feeling better about things.”
Jones was reminded that Yankees legend Mariano Rivera has hinted that he will retire after this season. If they both leave the game after this season, they will debut on the Hall of Fame ballot together after the five-year waiting period.
“Well, I can speak for Mo — I know Mo’s going in on the first ballot,” Jones said. “I can’t say as much for myself. All you can do is put together the best résumé possible. I can walk away today and feel very proud of the career I’ve had.”
Jones said his right knee — which has limited him to four games this spring — has been the biggest concern. “My right knee pretty much bothers me every day,” he said, gesturing to the inside of his kneecap. “You’re supposed to have meniscus in here, so you’re not bone on bone. I’m bone on bone in my right knee. My left knee feels awesome. I haven’t had any trouble with my left knee.”
Jones, listed at 6-4 and 210 pounds on the Braves’ official website, said he’s not trying to get to a target weight before Opening Day.
“No, I lost weight during the offseason,” he said. “I was on a pretty good diet. Lo and behold, I get a picture taken of me early in spring and everybody thinks I’m fat. I’m actually about seven pounds lighter than I have been the last 10 or 12 years, coming in.
“I feel good from that standpoint. I’d like to be right around 225. I think it may take some pressure off my knee. And then I go through the first 10 days, and I’m thinking there’s nothing that’s going to take pressure off my knee. I’ve got to get my legs in shape from a standpoint of all the muscles around the knee and then see how the body responds after that.”
For now, Jones — much like his team — appears a little behind schedule in getting ready for the regular season. Jones said he felt better at the plate Monday, even though he’s not catching up to 95-mph fastballs yet or squaring up changeups and sliders.
“I’m not worried about wins and losses,” he said. “I’m worried about individual at-bats. I’m worried about our pitchers walking nine guys today. Those are things that have to be addressed.”