The Atlanta Braves avoided arbitration with four players on Friday, but the team still has more work to do.
Among those to reach agreement were pitchers Kris Medlen and Mike Minor, third baseman Chris Johnson and outfielder Jordan Schafer. That leaves Atlanta with three major pieces of its squad yet to agree to deals for 2014.
Friday carried a 1 p.m. deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary-arbitration figures or come to terms for 2014.
The team issued an official release for the players who agreed to deals. It did not include first baseman Freddie Freeman, outfielder Jason Heyward or closer Craig Kimbrel.
Clubs and players still have the opportunity to reach agreement after the deadline, though the Braves have not made a practice of doing so. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Friday night that the Braves will have no further negotiations with Freeman, Heyward and Kimbrel according to general manager Frank Wren and will instead go to hearings.
Arbitration hearings will take place February 1-21 for those unable to come to agreement on Friday. At that time, the player will either be awarded his request or the team’s offer rather than a figure in between.
Medlen, 28, showed he belonged in the Atlanta rotation by following up his stellar run late in 2012 with another good campaign last season. A slow start and spotty run support contributed to his 15-12 record, but Medlen finished strong to lead the starting staff with both a 3.11 ERA and those 15 wins. He’ll earn $5.8 million this season, a significant raise from his 2013 salary of $2.6 million.
Minor, 26, continued his evolution into a solid front-end starter with a more than respectable 2013 season. The lefty went 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA. He led the team with 32 starts, 204.2 IP and 181 strikeouts, all personal bests. Minor’s 2014 salary of $3.85 million represents a nice jump from the $505,000 he made last season.
Johnson, 29, was the less-heralded part of Atlanta’s big trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks last winter, but he certainly proved himself to be more than just a throw-in. Taking over for Chipper Jones at third base, Johnson hit .321/.358/.457 while vying for the NL batting title. The two sides agreed to a $4.75 million deal for 2014, more than double his $2,287,500 salary from 2013.
Schafer, 27, hit .247/.331/.346 with 22 stolen bases in 94 games in 2013, but missed significant time in the middle of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot. After returning from the disabled list, Schafer batted just .170 in his final 33 games. He will make $1.09 million in 2014.
A very talented trio is ticketed for arbitration hearings. Regardless of which side wins in each case, the Braves are projected be paying tidy raises to each man.
Freeman, 24, set career bests in most offensive categories in 2013. He batted .319/.396/.501 with 23 homers and 109 RBI to earn NL All-Star honors. After finishing fifth in NL MVP voting, Freeman was first time arbitration-eligible and will see his salary jump noticeably from the $560,000 he made last season. He was seeking $5.75 million, while the Braves offered $4.5 million.
Heyward, 24, had much of his 2013 season derailed by injury, but emerged as a catalyst at the top of the Atlanta lineup in the second half. While his .254/.349/.427 line in 104 games may seem run-of-the-mill, Heyward batted .322/.403/.551 with 31 runs scored in 30 games out of the leadoff spot. After making a $3.65 million salary last season, Heyward asked for $5.5 million. The team countered with a $5.2 million figure, putting them just $300,000 away.
Kimbrel, 25, has quickly built a reputation as the best closer in baseball. After piling up a career-high 50 saves in 2013, Kimbrel now has 138 over the past three seasons. Add in a 1.39 ERA and 15.1 SO/9 to his eye-popping career totals, and it’s easy to see how Kimbrel will become the highest paid first-time arbitration-eligible closer (surpassing a record of $6.25 million paid to Jonathan Papelbon by the Boston Red Sox in 2009). Kimbrel submitted a $9 million request, while Atlanta was prepared to pay $6.55 million.