- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Despite Andruw Jones' struggles, agent Scott Boras said Tuesday that he does not expect Jones to sign a one-year contract in an effort to rehabilitate his numbers and file for free agency again next winter.
Jones hit .222 last season. He's on the free agent market for the first time since 2001, and he's doing it in a winter filled with prominent center field alternatives.
Boras says he's undeterred.
"You're talking about a guy with 10 Gold Gloves in a row and 25 home runs 10 years in a row," Boras said. "The fact is, this guy in his worst year had 26 home runs, 94 RBIs and a Gold Glove. When you go back and look at the best center fielders out there today, Andruw's year of [power] production is very close to theirs. And this was his worst year."
Jones, nevertheless, is being viewed skeptically in baseball circles. His batting average, .311 on base percentage and .413 slugging percentage were all career lows, and his home run total has slipped from 51 to 41 to 26 over the past three seasons.
On the positive side, Jones might have enhanced his reputation with a glove. He led National League center fielders in putouts in 2007 and received a Fielding Bible Award from a panel that called him the "Comeback Fielder of the Year."
Still, most of the early attention in this winter's market has focused on Torii Hunter (.287 with 28 homers and 107 RBIs for Minnesota) and Aaron Rowand (.309-27-89 for the Phillies). Hunter, who turned down a reported three-year, $45 million offer from the Twins, is currently being courted by the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers and Kansas City Royals, among others.
Several media outlets have estimated that Hunter will sign a five- or six-year deal for a salary of about $15 million per year -- with Chicago the apparent frontrunner at the moment.
During the recent general managers' meetings in Orlando, Fla., ESPN.com asked 15 front office executives if they would prefer Jones or Hunter as a center field option. Fourteen respondents chose Hunter, and one official said he would be content with either player.
"If you would have asked me two years ago, I probably would have said Andruw," said an American League assistant general manager. "But I can't defend the year he had. It was pretty bad."
Washington has been mentioned as a potential fit for Jones because Nationals president Stan Kasten was in Atlanta when the Braves signed Jones to a six-year, $75 million contract in 2001. The Washington Post reported that Kasten met with Jones at the player's Atlanta home two weeks ago. Beyond that, speculation concerning Jones's future has been minimal.
"Not only have I not heard what [money] Scott is looking for on Jones; I haven't heard anyone other than Washington talking to him about Andruw," said an executive with a big league club in the market for a center fielder. "I assume that Scott is just going to wait until Hunter and Rowand are off the board and then hope the other bidders for those players get desperate."
Boras is coming off a difficult week. After being reduced to the role of bystander while Alex Rodriguez re-established ties with the New York Yankees' front office, Boras was dropped by longtime client Kenny Rogers, who plans to negotiate a return to the Detroit Tigers without an agent.
Boras has since returned to the negotiating table to try and finalize a 10-year contract for Rodriguez with the Yankees. And he told ESPN.com that his parting with Rogers was amicable.
"Kenny was very happy with our services over the years," Boras said. "He simply felt that by doing a one-year contract at 43, he didn't need representation."
Six years ago, Jones bypassed Boras and negotiated a long-term deal with Atlanta with help from his father. Boras denied speculation that Jones might be contemplating a similar break again this winter. He said he recently traveled to Atlanta to discuss free-agent strategy with Jones, and that two of his staff members stayed in town to attend a charity function with Jones.
Now Boras is trying to make the case that Jones's dropoff in 2007 was a one-year aberration rather than a sign of things to come. He said Jones is working out five days a week and looking at film in an attempt to pinpoint the source of his problems this season.
"For some team out there, he can make a dramatic difference just by having a normal, average season for Andruw Jones," Boras said.