Are the Atlanta Braves Really Going to Arbitration with Kimbrel, Heyward and Freeman?
According to mlbtraderumors.com, the Braves are on the record stating that now that they have exchanged salary arbitration numbers with young stars Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, they won’t do any more negotiating and will instead go to hearing on all three. For the record Kimbrel is proposing $9 million while the Braves are proposing $6.55 million, Heyward is $5.5 million vs. $5.2 million, and Freeman is $5.75 million vs. $4.5 million.
The Braves are a self-proclaimed “file and trial” team, meaning that once arbitration numbers are exchanged, they cease negotiating and go to salary arbitration hearing. The theory behind this strategy is that it forces player agents to get real about the salary numbers they ask for in negotiations, rather than submitting a sky-high salary arbitration number and then trying to split the difference with the team’s number before the arbitration hearing.
The strategy makes a certain amount of sense, but not when you are talking about players as young and potentially great as these three. They are the young nucleus of the Braves’ team, and they are going to hit free agency while still in the primes of their respective careers. Nothing alienates a young player quite as much as going to an arbitration hearing and listening to his team state all the bad things about his performance they can think of to get the arbitrator to pick the team’s number.
In Kimbrel’s case, there is a $2.45 million difference, which is enough to go to arbitration over. However, I can’t see the Braves having any argument other than the fact that $9 million is simply too much to pay any closer with only a little over three seasons in the majors.
What are the Braves going to argue — sure he posted a 1.01 ERA and 1.21 ERA the last two seasons and saved 92 ballgames, but he didn’t pitch in even 70 games or 70 innings in either of those seasons. And his strikeout rate went from ridiculously good in in 2011 and 2012 to only exceptionally good in 2013. There just isn’t much to knock in Kimbrel’s record to date.
The $300,000 difference between Heyward’s figure and the Braves’ figure veritably screams for the parties to split the difference. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, because if the Braves give Heyward $5.35 million, Freddie Freeman has a good argument he should get the same (Freeman has a year’s less experience, but he had a much better 2013 campaign than Heyward did), which is way more than midpoint between the Braves’ and Freeman’s exchanged figures.
If the Braves have any sense, they’ll either withdraw their “file and trial” stance or try to work out multi-year deals with all three that take them up at least to their free agent eligibility. Their potential value over the long term is simply too great to risk alienating these budding superstars over several hundred thousand dollars now.