Braves avoid arbitration with four players
Medlen, Minor, Johnson, Schafer sign, while Kimbrel, Freeman, Heyward do not
ATLANTA -- Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward are set to receive significant raises. But each of these players will have to first experience a salary arbitration hearing to learn exactly what the Braves will be paying them during the upcoming season.
The Braves agreed to terms on one-year deals with Kris Medlen, Chris Johnson, Mike Minor and Jordan Schafer before having to exchange salary arbitration figures on Friday afternoon. But they were not able to reach agreements with Kimbrel, Freeman and Heyward, who stood as their only other unsigned arbitration-eligible players.
While the Braves are permitted to continue negotiating with each of their three unsigned arbitration-eligible players, Braves general manager Frank Wren said he plans to take each of these players to a salary arbitration hearing that will be held at some point between Feb. 1-21 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Over the past few seasons, Atlanta has made it known that it is a "file-and-trial club." This means the team plans to go to a hearing if it doesn't reach an agreement before the salary figures are exchanged.
The Braves haven't taken a player to a hearing since 2001, when they won their arbitration case against John Rocker. But the club was planning to go through this process with Martin Prado before he was traded to the D-backs last January.
"Our preference would have been to have all seven signed," Wren said. "I think we made a strong effort to do that. We just couldn't quite get there on the last three.
"At the end of the day, we went well above the recommended salary arbitration numbers for all of our players. Our last offers were well above the recommendation. We tried real hard. We just couldn't get it done."
When the exchanged numbers were released early Friday evening, there was great disparity between the $9 million salary Kimbrel has requested and the $6.55 million the Braves have offered the dominant closer, who has notched 28 more saves (138) than any other Major League pitcher over the past three seasons.
Freeman, who finished fifth in this past season's National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting, has requested a $5.75 million salary. The Braves have offered $4.5 million.
The difference between the numbers relating to Heyward is quite small. Heyward has requested a $5.5 million salary and the Braves are offering $5.2 million to the 25-year-old outfielder.
During a hearing, an arbitrator determines whether the player will gain his request or the amount offered by the club. The process does not lead to the player being awarded a figure between these two numbers.
"I know the way we conduct ourselves in the hearing room and the way we go about it," Wren said. "It's not personal. It's about the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves. You're comparing player to player -- Player A to Player B and the salary associated with that player. It's really not a personal attack on a player. You would hope they would understand this is part of the process."
Medlen agreed to a one-year deal worth $5.8 million. The 2.47 ERA he has compiled since July 31, 2012, ranks second only to Clayton Kershaw among all pitchers who have made at least 40 starts during this span. The 28-year-old right-hander made $2.6 million as a first-time arbitration-eligible player this past season.
Minor's salary will rise from $505,000 to $3.85 million for the upcoming season. The 26-year-old left-hander notched a career-high 13 wins and exceeded 200 innings for the first time while posting a 3.21 ERA in 32 starts last year.
Johnson, who finished second in the NL with a .321 batting average in 2013, agreed to a $4.75 million salary for this upcoming season. The veteran third baseman proved to be quite a value as he made $2.29 million in 2013.
Schafer's one-year deal is worth $1.09 million. The versatile and athletic backup outfielder made $513,000 while hitting .247 with a .677 OPS last year. This was the first time he was eligible for arbitration.
Atlanta entered the offseason with 14 arbitration-eligible players and then opted to not tender contracts to Elliot Johnson, Cristhian Martinez and Paul Janish. Before Friday, the Braves had further whittled that list down by reaching one-year agreements with Jordan Walden, Jonny Venters, Brandon Beachy and Ramiro Pena.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.