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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

End of an era: Braves cut ties with center fielder Andruw Jones

After a disappointing and unproductive 2007 campaign, it will be difficult for Jones to receive the hefty contract that he's seeking.

By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
October 2, 2007

The Atlanta Braves are cutting ties with Andruw Jones, saying they can't afford to keep the perennial Gold Glove center fielder who's spent his entire career with the organization.

General manager John Schuerholz announced the decision Tuesday, shortly after breaking the news to Jones during a one-on-one meeting at Turner Field.

While hoping to stay in Atlanta, Jones wasn't caught off-guard by the team's stance. He made $13.5 million this season and was looking for a hefty raise despite slumping badly.

"I'm fine with it," Jones told The Associated Press when reached on his cell phone. "I'm appreciative of the chance they gave me to play for Atlanta all these years. I understand the decision they have to make. That's just the way it is. It's a business."

Indeed, the move was not unexpected as the 30-year-old Jones batted only .222 in the final season of his $75 million contract. He's eligible to file for free agency after the World Series.

"It just doesn't work for us," Schuerholz said. "It doesn't demean or diminish everything he's done, and I thank him for all his contributions. We all will have fond memories of him."

The Braves plan to use the money they'll save on Jones to bolster their starting rotation -- a glaring weakness beyond John Smoltz and Tim Hudson -- and to sign first baseman Mark Teixeira, who made $9 million this year and is eligible for arbitration.

Still, it was the end of an era in Atlanta. Jones first joined the Braves as a 19-year-old, hitting two homers in his first World Series game at Yankee Stadium in 1996. He has been one of the game's greatest defensive outfielders, winning nine straight Gold Gloves with his diving catches and over-the-wall grabs in center.

Jones would have preferred to stay with the Braves, but the team had no serious talks with his agent, Scott Boras.

"I thought there would be some negotiation or something," Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur told the AP. "I guess that's what's so weird, that it happened so quick. It's obviously sad when you lose a teammate and good friend.

Jones was one of the game's top sluggers in 2005-06, combining for 92 homers and 257 RBIs, but his production tailed off dramatically this season. He fell to his worst average since becoming a full-time starter in 1997, with 26 homers and 94 RBIs.

Schuerholz said the team got an offer from Boras last December but quickly realized it was far more than anything they would consider.

Boras withdrew the offer, believed to be in the $20-million-a-year range, over the summer when the Braves never responded, Schuerholz said.

"What that did was to signal what we could fully expect," the GM said. Asked how much Boras was asking for, Schuerholz held his right hand over his head. "I can't reach that high," he quipped.

"It was so far removed from what we could even consider doing," Schuerholz added.

Jones is only the latest longtime Braves player to cut ties with Atlanta, following Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Javy Lopez. Once one of baseball's highest-spending teams under Ted Turner, the Braves cut their budget in recent years and went through a change in corporate owners.

"We have to use our assets in the most effective way to put the best 25 people on the field," Schuerholz said.

Jones spent much of the year preparing to play elsewhere in 2008.

"I've been telling people this for a long time," he said. "It's a business. You can't take it to heart. I just have to move on and start with a new team."

When it comes to contract matters, Schuerholz normally deals only with a player's agent. But he decided to call in Jones for a face-to-face meeting.

"It was appropriate for Andruw," Schuerholz said. "He deserved that."
Associated Press freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd contributed to this report.


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