While Braves right fielder Jason Heyward and pitcher Kris Medlen drew even bigger raises than some expected in their first year of arbitration, Martin Prado and the team couldn’t agree to terms and appear to be headed for a February hearing to determine the veteran’s 2013 salary.
Prado was the only arbitration-eligible Brave not to agree to terms before Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline for major league teams and their unsigned arb-eligible players to reach agreements or swap salary figures. Prado filed at $7.05 million and the Braves at $6.65 million, a $400,000 difference of opinion that's significantly smaller than most on salary-swap day.
Teams are permitted to continue negotiations with players right up until their arbitration hearings, but Braves general manager Frank Wren said there would be no more negotiations with Prado because of a club policy that's been in place in recent years.
"We are a file-to-go club," he said, meaning to file a salary figure and then go to a hearing. "Once we exchanged numbers at 1 o'clock today, we don’t negotiate any further. That’s an organization policy that we’ve taken on for a number of years. We would prefer these end in a settlement negotiation, but at the same time, if they don’t that’s obviously a right the player has, and we have to take it to a neutral arbitration panel."
At an arbitration hearing, a panel must award either the salary proposed by the player or the one proposed by the team, not a figure between those amounts.
Heyward ($3.65 million), Medlen ($2.6 million) and relievers Eric O’Flaherty ($4.32 million), Jonny Venters ($1.625 million) and Christhian Martinez all agreed to one-year deals Friday, leaving Prado as the only unsigned arbitration-eligible Brave.
It’s been 12 years since the Braves last went all the way to an arbitration hearing, with John Rocker in 2001. The next-closest they came was with Jeff Francoeur, who agreed to terms with the Braves only hours before he was set to fly from Florida to Arizona for an arbitration hearing during 2009 spring training.
The Braves let agents know in recent weeks that if there weren’t settlements by Friday, they should plan for a hearing. That’s something the team tried to avoid in the past. Hearings are often contentious, with the team pointing out a player’s deficiencies and why he doesn’t deserve as much as he's asking for -- while the player is in the room taking it all in.
One of the more popular Braves among teammates and fans, Prado played five different positions in 2012 and hit .301 with a .359 on-base percentage, 10 homers and career-highs in doubles (42), triples (six) RBIs (70), stolen bases (17) and games played (156).
After making $4.75 million in 2012, he was projected to get around $6.8 million-$7 million through arbitration, according to most experts. He can be a free agent after the 2013 season, and many thought that Prado, 29, would sign a multi-year extension this winter. The Braves tried at least briefly in December to work out a multi-year deal, but talks hit an impasse and the focus shifted to a one-year deal.
Prado is a .295 career hitter with a .780 OPS since reaching the majors in 2006. The hard-working Venezuelan spent parts of four seasons as a Braves utility player before getting a crack at the regular second-base job in 2010 and becoming an All-Star in his first season with more than 450 at-bats.
"In the vast majority of arbitration cases, the numbers speak for themselves," Wren said. "It's really comparing one player’s numbers to another. It’s not comparing the person. It’s actually a pretty sterile process."
The Braves’ primary left fielder the past two seasons, Prado could be Chipper Jones’ third-base replacement in 2013 unless the Braves don’t get another left fielder and end up using him in platoons in left and at third.
Heyward received more than a six-fold raise after making $565,000 in 2012 and hitting .269 with an .814 OPS and career-highs in doubles (30), triples (six), home runs (27), RBIs (82), runs (93), stolen bases (21) and plate appearances (651). The 23-year-old McDonough native’s 2013 contract also includes potential awards bonuses. Heyward won his first Gold Glove in 2012 and was Baseball America’s rookie of the year in 2010.
Medlen got a raise of more than $2 million from last season, when he went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 50 games including a sensational 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts after an end-of-July move from the bullpen. Medlen, who missed almost the entire 2011 season while recovering from elbow surgery, is 15-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 30 career starts and will be at or near the top of Atlanta’s rotation going into the new season.
“I’m very excited, and glad both sides agreed to terms,” said Medlen, after capping a big week in which he was also named to the Team USA roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Chipper Jones compared Medlen’s change-up and command to that of Braves pitching icon Greg Maddux, and Medlen is thrilled that Maddux will serve as pitching coach for the U.S. team in the WBC.
O’Flaherty got a $1.9 million raise in his final year of arbitration, after making $2.49 million in 2012 and posting a 1.73 ERA in 64 appearances. The left-handed setup reliever had a 0.98 ERA in 78 appearances in 2011 – the first major leaguer with a sub-1.00 ERA in 70 or more games -- and over the past two seasons he’s had a miniscule 1.31 ERA in 142 appearances, with 113 strikeouts in 131 innings. His new contract also includes awards bonuses.
Like Prado, O’Flaherty can be a free agent after the 2012 season. The others on the Braves’ list were first-time arb-eligibles including lefty Venters and Martinez, a right-hander who gained “Super Two” arbitration status for being among the 22 percent with the most major league service below three years. Players with three years of service are all eligible for arbitration if not already signed to contracts.
Martinez's new salary wasn't immediately known Friday, but he was projected to get about $750,00o.
Venters had a career-worst 3.22 ERA in 66 appearances during a season of severely disparate parts. He had a 4.45 ERA and .313 opponents' average before the All-Star break and a 1.71 ERA and .211 OA after the break. He has a whopping 230 appearances in three major league seasons, including a majors-leading 85 in 2011.
After going 12-6 with a 1.80 ERA and .191 opponents' average in his first 173 career appearances through April 30, 2012, Venters had a 6.08 ERA and .343 OA in 31 appearances from May 1 through July 4. He went on the disabled list for an inflamed elbow at that point, and after returning July 22 he posted a 1.71 ERA in his final 26 appearances.