ATLANTA -- Don't be surprised if Shawn Green, Juan Gonzalez and Derek Jeter are on Chipper Jones' Christmas card list this year.
Thanks to Green's six-year, $84 million contract with the Dodgers and the $100 million deals Gonzalez and Jeter are discussing with the Tigers and Yankees, respectively, Jones figures to become the highest-paid player in Atlanta Braves history in a month or two.
The deal his agent will begin discussing soon with the Braves probably will be in the seven-year, $119 million range, an average of $17 million per season. That would not only make him the wealthiest Brave, but it also would make him the highest-paid player in the game.
"I'm just kind of holding my breath," said Jones, whose MVP season included career-highs in average, homers and walks. "The biggest thing for me to do is be patient and let my agent do his job. Hopefully the Braves want me bad enough to give me fair market price."
The Braves have little choice but negotiate a long-term deal with Jones. One of the most popular players in team history, he's also one of the game's best players. Since he played his first full season in 1995, the Braves have played in three World Series and won more games than any team in baseball.
"Obviously (a long-term deal) is something we've tried to prepare ourselves for for the last couple of years," general manager John Schuerholz said. "When it's appropriate and both sides can concentrate on the issues, we'll probably sit down and have a nice, long discussion about it."
Jones owes Green a debt of gratitude for setting the market at $14 million per season and a big thank-you to Gonzalez and Jeter for raising the bar even higher. Only Gonzalez, who is finalizing an eight-year, $140 million contract with the Tigers, and Jeter, whose seven-year, $118.5 million deal with the Yankees has been put on hold, could top Jones in average salary when his deal is completed.
Jones has two things going for him. He's coming off an MVP season, and he can become a free agent after the 2000 season. Those two factors will lead to a deal that easily will surpass the five-year, $57.5 million deal that made pitcher Greg Maddux the highest-paid Brave only two years ago.
"I feel like I've done a lot for this organization, and I feel I've come at a premium for a couple of years now," Jones said. "If they feel I'm a big part of the future, then they can show me how much I'm part of their future."
Jones has been one of the game's lowest-paid stars for several years after signing a four-year, $8.75 million deal in 1996 that included a $4.75 million option for 2000. He made $4 million last season, and this year's salary is the club's seventh-highest, less than half of what Maddux and Tom Glavine will make.
Negotiations on a new deal are expected to begin soon and be completed by the start of the season or soon after. Jones acknowledged he might accept a little less to remain with the Braves, but he won't take substantially less than market value.
"I'll consider it if all things are equal," he said. "We'll wait for the Braves to make an offer. I wouldn't be surprised for it not to start until spring training starts. There's no hurry. I'm not all that concerned about it."
Jones, who hit .319 last season with 45 homers and 110 RBI, insists the money won't change him. An avid hunter, he plans to buy some land.
"I've always wanted a ranch," he said. "A lot of land to hunt on, just me and my family and close friends to have a little fun with. But nothing is going to change for me. I'm going to do all the same things I always do. The only difference is I'm going to be able to know my future, and the future of the people around me is taken care of forever, and that's a nice feeling."
Jones, who is in Florida preparing for the upcoming season, came to spring training considerably bigger and stronger last year following an intense winter workout regimen. He didn't want to add any more bulk to his 6-foot-4 frame this winter, so he maintained his strength with weight training and gained back the 10 to 15 pounds he lost during the season.
"I hit (the weights) hard over the holidays," he said. "I'm strong and swinging the bat really good. I feel like I'm going into spring training very well-prepared and ready to go."
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