Mailbag: Will Andruw stay with Braves?

Mailbag: What will it take to keep Andruw?

In a perfect world, what do you think it will take to keep Andruw Jones with the Braves past the 2007 season?
-- Ryan T., Las Cruces, N.M.

Over the next few weeks and months, you're going to hear Andruw Jones say that he would like to spend his entire career in Atlanta. He's not lying. But at the same time, he'll be speaking long before other teams begin luring him with offers of an $18 million annual salary.

Vernon Wells, who is one year younger, recently signed a seven-year, $126 million contract that will keep him in Toronto. Believe me, Jones' agent, Scott Boras, is determined to find somebody who will trump that deal, and I don't know if the Braves will be willing or able to do so.

Like many, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jones land a deal that would provide him an annual salary of $20 million. But first, he's likely going to have to show some more consistency at the plate.

If he does, the Braves will reap the immediate rewards and quite possibly find themselves back in the postseason.

Knowing that the Braves showed some interest in Rocco Baldelli provides proof that they are at least preparing for life without Andruw.

Thus, if they were to fall out of the pennant race by the time the trade deadline arrives, then you can count on them looking to deal Jones and get the return they won't receive if he were to exit via free agency.

With the ownership situation still cloudy, it's probably still too early to assume anything. But I haven't gotten the feeling that the new owner (Liberty Media) will come in and drastically change the payroll.

With that being said, John Smoltz will also be a free agent at the end of the 2007 season, and for the first time ever, I've gotten the feeling that he might have gained comfort with the possibility of ending his career elsewhere.

With Smoltz's salary off the books, there would obviously be some more money available to give to Jones. But at the same time, the Braves are going to have to evaluate just how much they'd be willing to provide to a player who has sacrificed his body throughout his entire career.

Jones' selfless acts of throwing his body into the turf and determination to play every day have made him one of the game's most respected players. But at the same time, it's taken a toll, and now, as he prepares to enter his 30s, there's a chance we'll see his body begin to break down.

For the next three or four years, we may still see Jones performing like a legitimate All-Star. But if other teams are willing to provide a seven-year deal, they'll be taking a definite gamble for the final two or three years of the contract.

With 10 being the most and 1 being the least, what is your confidence level that Andruw will be a Hall of Famer when it's all over? Chipper Jones? Smoltz? Tim Hudson?
-- Adam B., Cahaba Heights, Ill.

If Andruw is able to average 35 homers over the next five seasons, he'll have surpassed the 500-homer milestone and still be just 34 years old. This, along with the fact that he's arguably the greatest defensive outfielder of all-time, makes him a near cinch for enshrinement.

So for now, I'll give him a 9. As every Dale Murphy fan will attest, a lot can happen to one's candidacy after the age of 30.

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As for the others, I'd have to say Smoltz has the greatest chance. Barring injury, he'll finish his career with more than 220 wins and 154 saves. Throw in his postseason dominance and great standing with the media, and I think it's easy to assume he'll one day join both Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux in Cooperstown.

With your rating scale, I'd say Smoltz would be an 8.

Talent-wise, Chipper is a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate. He's one of the greatest switch hitters to ever play the game and has an outside chance to surpass the 500-homer milestone (which obviously no longer means definite enshrinement). But injuries have hurt his chances and will likely plague him throughout the rest of his career.

For now, my confidence level for Chipper would be somewhere around a 5.

These past two seasons have severely diminished Hudson's chances of going to Cooperstown. But at just 31 years old, he still has plenty of time to find the form that made him one of the game's top pitchers during the first five years of this decade.

But based on what we currently know, I'll put him at 3.

At this point, who do you think has more potential for a great future, Chuck James or Kyle Davies?
-- Michelle T., Abbotsford, Wis.

Let's start by saying that both have the potential for a great future. One year ago, this would have seemingly been a crazy question. Even with all of the dominance he showed at the Minor League level, there was little reason to believe James would prove to be better than Davies.

While Davies struggled throughout an injury-ruined season in 2006, James emerged as one of the season's biggest surprises. But it's far too early to give up on Davies, who should regain his successful form as soon as he regains his confidence, which at one time seemed to be unshakable.

It might seem ridiculous right now, but I'd have to say Davies still seems capable of having the better career. His greater array of pitches may be enough to provide better consistency than James, who essentially throws just a changeup and fastball.

Still, with just these two pitches and a lack of fear, James has had success at every level. But as my assessment has confirmed, there's always going to be somebody doubting him.

Given the injuries of the past few years, have the Braves considered moving Chipper Jones to first base and trading Adam LaRoche for a leadoff man or some left-field help?
-- Nancy J., Stone Mountain, Ga.

As you all know, the Braves have certainly entertained the possibility of trading LaRoche. But they've never thought about using Jones as his replacement at first base.

Playing first base actually could prove to be detrimental to Jones' troublesome feet. Every time a grounder is hit in the infield, the first baseman has to hurry to the bag. When there is a runner at first base, the first baseman must hold the runner and push off with the pitch to make himself ready to field.

Do you think Willie Harris, who is a non-roster invitee, has a chance of playing an important role this year, maybe even as the leadoff hitter?
-- Kevin M., McComb, Miss.

Having played 175 career games at the position, Harris enters Spring Training with more experience than any other candidate for the vacant second-base position. But his statistics don't exactly provide much confidence.

In the 45 at-bats he got with Boston last year, Harris hit just .156. In the 218 at-bats he received with Triple-A Pawtucket, he hit just .220. Plus, he primarily was used as a backup outfielder in Boston.

My assumption is that Martin Prado or Kelly Johnson will win the leadoff job, and it truly appears that it will be Johnson's job to lose.

I ran into Johnson the other day, and he said that his work with Glenn Hubbard has been very beneficial. With Hubbard's help and his own athleticism, I think there's certainly a chance he could prove to be a solid defender, who could also prove serviceable in the leadoff spot.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.