ATLANTA — Struggling through another disappointing season, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones told The Associated Press he was meeting with team officials Tuesday to discuss his future and acknowledged that he's considering retirement.
Jones declined to comment directly on whether he'll retire at the end of the season, but it seemed clear that he's made up his mind and merely needed to work out a settlement with the team over the $28 million in guaranteed money he's owed for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
"It's obvious that it's something I've been thinking about," Jones told the AP after arriving at Turner Field in his blue pickup truck about 2:15 p.m. "I need to go through the proper channels. Once those have all been taken care of, everybody's questions will be answered."
The 38-year-old Jones, who won the NL MVP award in 1998 and led the league in hitting just two years ago, met before batting practice with team president John Schuerholz, general manager Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox.
"As best as I can gather right now, he's thinking about retiring after this year," Cox said. "But I can't give a definitive answer."
Jones told the AP he planned to discuss some "red tape issues" with team officials. Asked if those involved a resolution of his contract, Jones replied, "That would be fair to say."
He struggled last season and indicated that another difficult year would likely lead him to consider retirement, even if it meant walking away from a huge amount of money.
This season has been even tougher for Jones, though the Braves are leading the NL East. He's battled injuries and was hitting just .228 with three homers and 22 RBIs heading into the opener of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Braves have gotten more production at third base out of utility infielders Omar Infante (.314, one homer, 16 RBIs) and Brooks Conrad (.280, three homers, 12 RBIs), which has made Jones' troubles stand out even more.
"Well, anytime you've struggled at the plate and you're having trouble producing, it's frustrating," Jones told the AP, standing outside the Braves clubhouse. "I'm used to being in the middle of everything, but it hasn't been happening. Hopefully I'll have a better second half and really help contribute to this team staying in first place."
The team later put out a statement saying Jones would not be available to the media Tuesday. He took part in batting practice and was listed in the preliminary lineup, batting in his usual third spot. On an 11-game road trip, he played just three games because of an ailing finger.
"He's been bothered by that finger, but he's fine right now," Cox said. "We've got him back in there. Hopefully he can lead us to a championship."
Baseball already lost one of the generation's biggest stars when Ken Griffey Jr. abruptly retired this month in the middle of his 22nd season. Jones has put together a career that could get him in the mix for Cooperstown — he had 429 career homers and trailed only Mickey Mantle (536) and Eddie Murray (504) among switch-hitters.
Jones has long been the face of the Braves' offense, helping Atlanta wins its lone World Series title as a rookie in 1995 and significantly contributing to an unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles. His best year was 1999, when he led the Braves to the NL championship and was named MVP after hitting .319 with 45 homers and 110 RBIs.
Then came the injuries, which started in 2004 and led to a stretch of five straight seasons in which he missed at least 25 games. He continued to produce when healthy, putting up 29 homers and 102 RBIs in 2007, followed by a .364 average the next season that gave him his first NL batting championship.
Jones' numbers dipped dramatically in 2009. He batted only .264 — the second-lowest average of his 16-year career — with 18 homers and 71 RBIs.
"When you get in your late 30s, things pop up," Cox said.
This season, Jones has contributed little to help the team's run to first place, ceding the spotlight to rookie sensation Jason Heyward, leadoff man Martin Prado and new first baseman Troy Glaus.
Still, Jones remains a prominent figure in the clubhouse.
"He's a guy I watched when I was coming up," Conrad said. "He's a huge presence. He's a great guy to have on the team. He keeps it in line. He keeps the players loose. He talks to everybody about hitting."
Despite his lackluster numbers, Jones still has an impact on the field as well, his teammate said.
"He still makes the pitchers work. He brings a lot to the table," Conrad said. "As a team, we're better when we have him out there. It would be a sad day if he's leaving."
Cox believes there's still a chance Jones could be back in 2011.
"If he gets going and hits .350 the rest of the way, I know I would change my mind," the manager joked.
If Jones does retire, two longtime Braves figures will be leaving together at the end of the season. Cox has already announced this is last season as manager.
Jones chuckled when asked if he wanted to go out with Cox.
"No comment," he said with a smile before stepping into the clubhouse.