Braves could face arbitration hearings with 3 players

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is projected to fetch a big-time salary hike following another historic campaign.

Daniel Shirey/Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves’ front office could attend MLB’s arbitration hearings for the first time since 2001 after reportedly failing to reach agreements with three of their seven arbitration-eligible players by Friday’s 1 p.m. deadline.

Though the club did avoid arbitration with starting pitchers Mike Minor and Kris Medlen, third baseman Chris Johnson and outfielder Jordan Schafer, four of the team’s top players — Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel — remain unsigned and could be headed to the hearings in accordance with the Braves’ customary file-or-trial method.

The hearings are set for next month. The last Braves player to reach an arbitration hearing was former closer John Rocker. Last offseason, Martin Prado was due to appear before being traded to Arizona in the deal that brought Johnson and Justin Upton to Atlanta.

And the news there may not be all good for the organization.

Craig Kimbrel, arguably the best closer in the game, is expected to draw the largest figure of the bunch in just his first season of arbitration eligibility, as his historic numbers could fetch him more than $7 million dollars this season according to MLB Trade Rumors, which would break the previous record set by a closer (Jonathan Papelbon, $6.25 million). That’s quite a price to pay for a $90 million-plus payroll, especially one with long-term agendas with players like Freeman, Heyward, Minor, Andrelton Simmons, etc. With arbitration salaries benefiting from a cumulative effect, the 25-year-old closer will only get more and more expensive from there.

As for Freeman and Heyward, two of the top bats in the Atlanta lineup, they are expected to draw between $4.5 and $5 million in arbitration hearings. Of course, any long-term deal could nix any of these projections, but the Braves reportedly have made very little headway, if any, in trying to lock up Heyward and Freeman.

The Braves have largely avoided contract negotiations after salary-swap day — hence the "trial-and-file" tag — but they still have that option before the February hearings. However, following a year that saw zero MLB players head to arbitration for the first time ever, it appears there will be a few this time around — with some Braves players scattered into the mix.

In the meantime, here’s a look at the players who did sign one-year deals on Friday to avoid arbitration hearings:

Mike Minor: Minor’s deal was announced later on into Friday evening, but the team’s most valuable starter last season did sign a one-year deal worth $3.85 million, just slightly higher than MLB Trade Rumors’ projection. The southpaw posted the team’s highest wins above replacement among pitchers in 2013 after going 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA. Minor, who is a Super Two, increases his annual salary from $505,000 a year ago. He still has three years of arbitration eligiblity remaining before potentially becoming a free agent in 2018.

Kris Medlen: The Braves’ projected Opening Day starter signed a one-year, $5.8 million deal that should make him the highest-paid starting pitcher in the Braves’ organization in 2014. Medlen stepped into the "ace" role for Atlanta in its past two playoff appearances — starting in the one-game wildcard loss to the Cardinals in 2012 and Game 1 of the NLDS loss to the Dodgers last season — and he’ll be a top-of-the-rotation guy once again this upcoming season. Since becoming a full-time starter at the end of 2012, he’s posted a 27-12 record with a 2.47 ERA.

Medlen is arbitration-eligible again next season before becoming available for free agency in 2016.

Chris Johnson: Following a breakout campaign, the Braves’ third baseman also more than doubled his 2013 salary. Johnson, 28, avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $4.75 million deal. In his first year with the club since coming over from Arizona, Johnson challenged for the batting title into the final month, finishing his best season to date by hitting .321/.358/.457 with 12 home runs in 547 plate appearances. He lost the batting title by 10 points to Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer, but his commendable effort in replacing Braves all-time third baseman Chipper Jones went a long way in helping the team win 96 games last season.

Johnson, who is entering his fifth full season in the majors, is due to become a free agent in 2017.

Jordan Schafer: The 27-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $1.09 deal with the club that roughly doubles his salary from 2013 ($512,500). Though he dealt with injuries and played in only 94 games, it was a bit of a redemption year for Schafer, who was picked up off waivers from Houston and hit .247/.331/.346 — the best numbers of his career. Capable of playing all three outfield positions as well as providing some much-needed speed on the basepaths, Schafer will likely be one of the first guys off Fredi Gonzalez’s bench in 2014, with starting potential in case of injuries and/or slumps.

Schafer has two more years of arbitration eligibility before becoming eligible for free agency in 2017.