The Braves signed versatile infielder Ramiro Pena to a one-year contract and declined to offer arbitration Monday to reliever Cristhian Martinez and infielders Elliot Johnson and Paul Janish, making them non-tendered free agents.
Nine other arbitration-eligible Braves – pitchers Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Jordan Walden; infielders Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson, and outfielders Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer – were all tendered contracts, putting them under contract for the 2014 season at a salary still to be determined.
If the Braves don’t come to terms with any of those nine during the next six weeks, the team would exchange salary-arbitration figures with those players on Jan. 17.
Monday was the deadline for major league teams to offer contracts to unsigned arbitration-eligible players. A new group became free agents when they went non-tendered as their teams either cut ties or left open the possibility of trying to re-sign some of them at lower salaries than they would’ve gotten through arbitration.
Pena was a key part of the Braves’ strong bench in the early season, batting .278 with nine extra-base hits (three home runs) in 107 plate appearances over 50 games before season-ending shoulder surgery. Financial terms weren’t immediately available, but he had been projected to make about $600,000 in his first year of arbitration.
The Braves also formally announced Monday the signing of reliever Jonny Venters, who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.625 million contract three weeks ago. The left-hander missed the 2013 season recovering from his second “Tommy John” elbow surgery and could be back around May.
The Braves’ non-tender decision was expected with Martinez, who made nearly $750,000 in 2013 and pitched in only two games before season-ending shoulder surgery. He would have probably made a similar amount if the Braves had offered a contract under the arbitration system.
Janish is a defensive stalwart but offensive liability, and with Pena expected to be fully recovered the Braves didn’t need to bring back Janish at a salary similar to the $725,000 he made in 2013.
Elliot Johnson was the Braves’ primary second baseman late in the season and postseason after Dan Uggla was benched. Johnson impressed after being claimed off waivers from Kansas City on Aug. 21, batting .261 with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in 32 games with the Braves, and playing five positions including three starts in the outfield, three at third base, one at shortstop and 16 at second base.
The Braves are trying to trade Uggla, who is owed $26 million over the final two seasons of his contract. If he’s dealt, they have other options for second base including Tyler Pastornicky and prospect Tommy La Stella. They like Pena more in a utility role, though he could also play plenty of second base.
They also like Elliot Johnson and might try to re-sign him for less than the projected $900,000 that he would have made through arbitration.
“Of course I would be open to (returning),” said Johnson, who hadn’t heard from the Braves as of Monday. “Them giving me the chance to play in the playoffs was special and I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity.”