Braves’ Wren to focus on 3B, CF in offseason

Item by item, Chipper Jones’ shirts and pants were folded and

stacked neatly for the final time in his Braves travel bag.

His teammates also went through the familiar routine of cleaning

out lockers Saturday. Jones is taking more than his clothes: The

team gave the third baseman the entire locker as a retirement

gift.

A likely future Hall of Famer, Jones will be difficult to

replace. The Braves also could lose centerfielder and leadoff

hitter Michael Bourn, who can become a free agent.

”This is a lot easier than I thought it was going to be when I

thought about it five years ago,” the 40-year-old Jones said.

”That lets me know I’m ready.”

General manager Frank Wren said with other parts of the team in

place, he’ll be able to focus on third base and center.

”I’m looking forward to it, because I think there’s a narrower

focus of what we need,” Wren said Saturday. ”We’ve got a lot of

good young players in place and we’ve got to determine what we do

in centerfield, and that kind of couples with leadoff, and we’ve

got to determine how we replace Chipper. Beyond that, our club is

pretty solid. So it’s a pretty narrow focus.”

Atlanta’s season ended with Friday’s 6-3 wild-card loss to the

St. Louis Cardinals.

Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and the players all talked Saturday

about the disputed infield fly call in the eighth inning. There

also was much regret about the Braves’ three errors, one by

Jones.

”The way we lost yesterday was never in my mind, and I’m not

even talking about the ruling,” Gonzalez said. ”I’m just talking

about the way we handled the baseball. We’ve been so good for two

years playing defense.”

Jones was 1-for-5 with a throwing error.

”Had I had a better game, I probably would have accepted it a

little bit better,” Jones said. ”I’m a little disappointed in

myself for the game that I played.”

Jones plans to visit the Braves in spring training, but not to

coach.

”I’m not going to be a mainstay down there,” he said. ”I

don’t want to step on anybody’s toes.”

Jones’ retirement clears $13 million from the Braves’ payroll.

If the team can’t re-sign Bourn, Wren will have about $20 million

to spend elsewhere.

”I think the Braves need some pieces, but I think Frank will

have fun playing with all the money,” Jones said with a smile.

Re-signing Bourn will not be easy. Wren said he was unsuccessful

in his attempts to open negotiations in spring training with

Bourn’s agent, Scott Boras.

”They said they would prefer to wait until after the season,”

Wren said. ”So we made it clear to Michael that we want him back,

that we’d love to have him back. But we also know there’s a process

in place.”

Bourn, who hit .274 with 42 stolen bases, had an $6,845,000 base

salary this season and earned a $50,000 bonus for making the NL

All-Star team.

Wren said he’ll be a serious offseason shopper.

”We’re going to be looking for premium players, I think there’s

no doubt about that,” he said. ”We’re losing one Hall of Fame

player and the salary that goes with that Hall of Fame player, and

we’re going to be looking to replace him. And as we do that, it

gives us the opportunity to add another big player.”

Atlanta’s moves could come in in trades.

”There are not a lot of pieces out there in the free-agent

market this year that are all that appealing,” Wren said. ”We may

have to look other places.”

Left fielder Martin Prado and Juan Francisco are possible

replacements for Jones. Prado, a former All-Star second baseman,

backed up Jones at third base and even filled in at shortstop this

season.

Francisco hit .234 with nine homers in 192 at-bats. He could

provide more power than Prado, a stronger defensive player who hit

.301 with 10 homers, 70 RBIs and 17 steals.

Wren said the ”ideal position” for Prado would be in the

infield, but he noted that would leave an opening in left.

”You don’t necessarily get to go out on the market and get the

perfect guy for your team,” he said. ”We’ll have to see how that

goes.”

Atlanta is expected to exercise their 2013 club options on

catcher Brian McCann ($12 million) and right-hander Tim Hudson ($9

million).

Wren said the Braves have a ”dynamic young core” of players,

including right fielder Jason Heyward, first baseman Freddie

Freeman and shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Their rotation was bolstered by left-hander Mike Minor’s strong

second half and the emergence of Kris Medlen. Closer Craig Kimbrel

heads a strong bullpen.

”Our bullpen is intact,” Wren said. ”Our starting rotation is

intact. There are a lot of things that are real positive going into

next year, and I think guys are going to get better. I’m very, very

optimistic about where we sit as a franchise with the thought of

adding a couple of key pieces.”