Chipper hints that this may be the end

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones says he still not ready to announce whether he'll retire after the season.

Speaking before Wednesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Jones said "there's no change" in his status, and he asked the media to give him time to "do this in my own time, in my own way."

Jones met with manager Bobby Cox, general manager Frank Wren and team president John Schuerholz on Tuesday to discuss his future. The 38-year-old player is frustrated about the way he's played the last two seasons and isn't sure if he wants to come back for another year.

Jones declined to comment directly on whether he'll retire at the end of the season on Tuesday, 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 early Tuesday afternoon. "I need to go through the proper channels. Once those have all been taken care of, everybody's questions will be answered."

Jones, who won the NL MVP award in 1999 and led the league in hitting just two years ago, met with Schuerholz, Wren and Cox before batting practice on Tuesday.

"As best as I can gather right now, he's thinking about retiring after this year," Cox said Tuesday. "But I can't give a definitive answer."

Jones told the AP he planned to discuss some "red tape issues" with team officials. Asked whether 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 likely would 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, although the Braves are leading the NL East. He's battled injuries and was hitting just .228 with three homers and 22 RBIs heading into Tuesday's opener of a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Jones showed signs of breaking out of the slump on the day he raised the prospect of retirement. He doubled his second time up and scored a run, then hit a solo homer into the center-field seats in the eighth.

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, any time 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 talk to the media Tuesday. He took part in batting practice and was in the starting lineup, batting in his usual third spot. The Braves were returning home from an 11-game road trip; Jones had played just four of those 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 whether he wanted to go out with Cox.

"No comment," he said with a smile before stepping into the clubhouse.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.