Braves make concessions move to lure back the fans

The Braves slashed food and beverage prices by a third for holders of season ticket plans of 20 or more games.

The deal is good at fixed stands, not for the sit-down restaurant or for the vendors that roam through the stands, and doesn’t include alcohol. But it’s a substantial savings all the same. The team used the word “unprecedented” in its announcement.

Attendance has been dropping steadily at Braves’ games since the economy shuddered four years ago.

Atlanta’s super-charged financial climate was heavily based on escalating real estate prices, and there were weeknights last season when the crowd was in the 13,000-14,000 range.

Allowing for single-game sales, that’s not a large season-ticket base.

Although the Braves averaged 29,296 at each home game last season, and had the usual large crowds for the Phillies and Cubs series, the loss of season-ticket revenue is directly responsible for the Braves’ middle of the pack payroll.

Team chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk told the sports business writer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the $94 million budget for 2012 includes a couple of million dollars for mid-season adjustments.

Note that general manager Frank Wren never puts a figure on the payroll, and that the amount McGuirk cites includes the $10 million the team is paying right-hander Derek Lowe to pitch for the Indians this season.

No matter what perks the Braves give to season-ticket holders, they won’t entice enough fans to sign up for enough packages to make up for the team’s modest TV deal.

Negotiated before Liberty Media bought the Braves, the deal is in force for another two decades.

This is the reason everyone assumes CF Michael Bourn, RHP Jair Jurrjens and RHP Tommy Hanson, all clients of agent Scott Boras, will not be signing long-term contracts with the Braves when they’re eligible for free agency, as Bourn is after this season.

With what’s in the minor leagues right now, the loss of those two pitchers might not matter. And they are still under the Braves’ control for the short term.

Center field is another matter, but that hasn’t been the team’s strong suit since Andruw Jones was allowed to leave.

NOTES, QUOTES

-SS Jack Wilson, 34, isn’t waiting for spring training to mentor SS prospect Tyler Pastornicky. He had already invited the kid to work out with him before the Braves signed the free agent to a one year, $1 million deal. They’ll be working together the week before reporting to spring training.

-RHP Tommy Hanson should not have any restrictions because of his right shoulder when spring training begins. He’s been conditioning his shoulder and back since the soreness in both cost him starts last September.

-RHP Craig Kimbrel has been pacing himself during his offseason workouts. He threw hard, hard and harder a year ago, gearing up for what everyone expected would be his new role as closer. After making 75 appearances in 2011, he’s learned he has to tone it down to maintain his stamina for the season.

-RHP Brandon Beachy knocked himself out training last offseason because he wanted to win a job on the pitching staff in spring training. This offseason, confident of a spot in the rotation, he allowed himself to rest this offseason, and has started tossing and throwing slowly.

-RF Jason Heyward has been working in the Turner Field cages on some mechanical changes in his swing. Those, combined with a finally healthy shoulder, might restore his power bat. Heyward felt numbness and pain in right (non-throwing) shoulder from last spring training on, although nothing but inflammation showed up in tests.

ROSTER REPORT

INF Brooks Conrad, who was non-tendered even though he was not arbitration eligible, signed a minor league contract with the Brewers. He joins free agent SS Alex Gonzalez, who signed a one-year deal with the Brewers on Dec. 12.

DEPARTURES: SS Alex Gonzalez (free agent, signed with Brewers), OF Nate McLouth (free agent, signed with Pirates), RHP Derek Lowe (traded to Indians), LHP George Sherrill (free agent, signed with Mariners), INF/OF Brooks Conrad (free agent, signed minor league deal with Mariners).

FREE AGENTS: RHP Kenshin Kawakami, RHP Scott Linebrink.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: None.

MEDICAL WATCH:

-RHP Tim Hudson (back surgery) underwent the procedure Nov. 28 after offseason workouts went awry, but he should be ready for spring training.

-3B Chipper Jones (two surgically repaired knees) should be good to go by spring training.

-RHP Jair Jurrjens (bone bruise in right knee) should have no problem getting ready for spring training.

-RHP Tommy Hanson (right shoulder tendinitis) planned to spend the offseason strengthening his shoulder and his lower back and was given permission in December to being playing catch.

QUOTE TO NOTE

“They’re excited when they talk to you about the kind of stuff you’ve got.” — LHP Eric O’Flaherty, on working with catchers Brian McCann and David Ross.