ATLANTA (AP) – The Atlanta Braves finalized a $37 million, three-year contract with Chipper Jones on Friday that guarantees the third baseman an additional $15 million and saves the team $6 million in 2006 salary, money that could be used to re-sign Rafael Furcal or pursue a top closer.

Jones had $22 million in guaranteed money remaining in a $90 million, six-year contract that began in 2001. He was due to make $17 million next season, and Atlanta had team options for 2007 and 2008 at $15 million annually. The options, which carried a single $5 million buyout, would have become guaranteed if he had 450 plate appearances in the previous season or was an All-Star.

Under the new deal, he gets a $4 million signing bonus in January and $11 million in each of the next three seasons. The contract contains a 2009 team option at $8 million that would become guaranteed if he has 450 plate appearances the previous year and escalators that could raise his 2009 salary to $11 million.

General manager John Schuerholz praised Jones for reworking his contract to give the Braves their “best possibility of maintaining our remarkable winning tradition.”

“Whatever it takes, Chipper is always willing to step up,” Schuerholz said, “and we are pleased that this latest unselfish act will likely ensure that he will play his entire career as a Brave.”

Atlanta is still trying to re-sign Furcal, their shortstop and leadoff man, who had a career-high 46 stolen bases last season. They desperately need a closer as well, going through three pitchers in that role while winning their 14th straight division title.

Kyle Farnsworth, acquired July 31 from Detroit, finished the season as the closer but agreed Friday to a $17 million, three-year deal with the New York Yankees.

The Braves have shown interest in San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman, a free agent who is second on the career saves list with 436, including 43 in 46 chances this past season.

Schuerholz said the contract restructuring was similar to Jones’ willingness to move to left field from third base in 2002 so the team could sign Vinny Castilla. Jones moved back to third during the 04 season.

“Chipper has always displayed a consistent, strong desire to contribute to our winning on the field,” the GM said.

Jones, whose new contract was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Nov. 18, is a five-time All-Star who won the National League MVP award in 1999. He has been slowed by injuries the last two seasons, missing significant time in 2005 with a foot ailment. He batted .296 with 21 homers and 72 RBIs.

“The first professional uniform I put on 16 years ago was a Braves uniform, and I wanted to try to make sure its my last,” Jones said. “I want to retire as a Brave, but more importantly, I knew this was something that could help continue the winning tradition we’ve built and our quest to bring our fans another world championship.”

The Braves won the World Series in 1995, Jones’ rookie year, but that is their only such championship during the unprecedented run of division titles.

AP-ES-12-02-05 1847EST

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