While nothing is written is stone just yet, there is a pretty good chance that the Atlanta Braves will find themselves sans-Chipper Jones when the team reports to Spring Training in 2011.

(Oh, and yeah, I know that the Braves are a first place team with a lot going right for them right now.)

Well, that is provided that Chipper maintains his blisteringly cold .228/.375/.341 line (that he carried into Tuesday night) over the remainder of the season. His OBP is good, I’ll give him that, but his job as the No. 3 hitter is more about driving in runs than getting on base. And with only 22 RBIs (batting .267 with runners on), and with Jason Heyward and Martin Prado in front of him, there is simply too much pressure being put on Troy Glaus and Brian McCann to pick up what Jones is leaving behind.

As it stands today, the former perennial threat for 30-plus homers and a .300 (or better) batting average is struggling mightily at the plate (eight hits in his last 35 at-bats). Jones is also a defensive liability at the hot corner and he can’t keep a clean bill of health to save his life (from his fingers to his obliques to his back).

What’s more, the now 38-year-old Jones is being outplayed by all of his potential replacements on the bench.

Brooks Conrad is only six extra-base hits behind the surefire Hall-of-Famer in about a third of the number of plate appearances.

Omar Infante (who has only 30 fewer at-bats than “Hoss”) holds a .314/.351/.387 line.

Eric Hinske, who has appeared in one more game than Chipper (although with 50 fewer at-bats), and his .316/.386/.556 line makes one wonder why the Braves lifer is even getting chances at all.

But I do know the reasons: too much loyalty on the part of the manager and a $14M paycheck this season. Those factors will make it hard to tell a franchise legend it’s time to call it quits.

In my humble opinion, the best interests of all parties involved would be for ol’ Larry to ride quietly off into the sunset in a Ken Griffey, Jr.-esque fashion—he just doesn’t seem to have “it” anymore (though I’d love to be proven wrong).

But, we all know that’s not going to happen.

The fact of the matter is this: Chipper is fading, and he has been fading rapidly since winning his only batting title back in 2008.

His nostalgic presence in the Braves’ locker room is linking this club to the pitching-dominant ways of the 1990s teams headed by Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine—and that’s not helping the current squad win games.

It’s been tough to let go of the image of Chipper as a MVP candidate…but seeing what is as close to futility as you’ll see on a Major League diamond night-in and night-out has really let that image escape my mind.

It’ll be tough to replace the name-value that came along with Chipper over at third (although “Brooks” is a pretty cool name…just saying)—but if that three year, $42 million extension (that’s Carl Crawford money right there…wink wink, nudge nudge) does indeed fall off of the table—that’ll be a pretty easy pill to swallow.

This article is also featured on The Hey Train.

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