How Will The Braves Handle Their Contract Issues?

MLB Trade Rumors just completed their look into end of year contract issues and the Braves certainly have their share. I was reminded the other night by @JoeCNC (thank you) that I needed to update projections for next year because things have changed since January.  I’ll do that over the two posts starting with options and arbitration eligible players.

Contract Options

This seems to me the easiest of the areas to address although it isn’t that straight forward. Since Chipper Jones has decided to retire after this season we have only two contract options to look at; Tim Hudson and Brian McCann.

Hudson is a no brainer. We have a $9M option that should be quickly exercised barring injury or other unforeseen circumstance. As Ben Nicholson says in the linked article, “It will be hard to do better than Hudson for a net cost of $8MM.” Hudson is much more than a solid veteran pitcher, his attitude and example sets a standard for the younger one to shoot for. If the old man can do it they certainly should. So we obviously keep Hudson and maybe extend him for a couple of years. 2013 Commitment $9M

McCann’s $12M option is also an automatic if Yadier Molina had not just blown the lid off catcher contracts with a $72M extension through 2017 and a $15M team option for 2018, an extension might well have been done as well. I am certain they will try to extend him through at least 2018 and may well match Molina’s contract.  However the 2014 free agent catcher class has no one anywhere close to BMac’s offensive capabilities and that might change his answer. In any event BMac will have his option picked up.2013 Commitment $12M

Arbitrations Eligible Players

We have a large class of arbitration eligible players who will suck up much of the $24M (Chipper and Derek Lowe) coming off the books after this year. There does seem to be more leeway in that money than expected at the start of the year. Lets do the easy ones first.

First Time Eligible

Jason Heyward Jason will earn a very nice salary in 2103. Nicholson says J-Hey, along  with Tommy Hanson and Jonny Venters could be in the $4M range. I don’t expect the numbers for any of them to reach that elite zone but I don’t expect them to be underpaid either. If Heyward continues to play as he has and hopefully improve a bit in the second half, I expect him to get a contract offer around $3M next year.

Jonny Venters has had a couple of rough outings and some fans are all a dither over them. The thing is, Venters needs to work more to stay sharp. Fredi Gonzales hasn’t found the right mix for him yet. I hope he finds it soon but in any case Venters is an exceptional setup man. Jeff Sullivan over at Baseball Nation put it this way.

“Jonny Venters does have an incredible sinker. Jonny Venters does maintain a turf-destroying ground-ball rate. But Jonny Venters’ slider … it doesn’t get better than Jonny Venters’ slider. It’s been the most unhittable pitch in baseball since Venters first arrived, and there’s no good reason to think it’ll bequeath its crown in 2012.”(emphasis added)

That slider will keep him the 8th inning man  for the Braves and earn him a first year arbitration contract numbers somewhere over $2.5M. That brings me to Tommy Hanson.

This time last year Hanson was unhittable. IN his first 103 1/3 innings he had an ERA of 2.44, a WHIP of 1.016 and opponents hit just .190 against him. Then he hurt his shoulder. The second half was lost and this year his fastball – which was slowing a bit even early last year is now averaging below 90 and he’s had trouble locating his pitches. As a result he’s having to work harder and hitters are waiting him out. A quick glance at his numbers in leverage situations will tell you he’s nowhere near as effective as he has been.

High Leverage  IP BA OBP SLG K BB
2011 7 .160 .222 .333 11 2
2012 5 2/3 .300 .391 .526 4 3
2011 131 .154 .264 .282 42 15
2012 56 .213 .352 .315 12 8

Where once Big Red would certainly have been up there with Heyward I suspect that pitching like a number 3 starter will earn him a contract around $2M instead.

Kris Medlen  is currently the most undervalued pitcher on the staff.  Since the folks who decide what he gets put him in few positions to prove otherwise and since middle relievers are undervalued to begin with I suspect Meds will end up with a contract offer around $1.5M.

Cristhian Martinez was quietly one of the best relievers the Braves had last year. Like Medlen he’s caught in the middle reliever zone. He’s also less versatile and has been less effective than Meds this year. I expect his contract offer to be about $1M.

Third Time Eligible

There are just three in this group: Eric O’Flaherty, Martin Prado  and Jair Jurrjens.  Where to begin?

Eric O’Flaherty hasn’t been the guy we saw last year. That however was never going to happen. He pitched to numbers that had never been obtained before and was bound to come back to the pack a little. EOF like Venters needs more work that Fredi is giving him. He will be a solid dependable 7th inning guy even if he isn’t lights out and unhittable every outing. He earns $2.49M this year and another solid season will probably see him near a contract worth $4M in 2013. That is, if he’s still with us at the end of the season.

Martin Prado is back. After an injury and a staph infection robbed him of stamina and power in 2011 he’s on quite a tear in 2012. He’s currently hitting .316/.392/.481 giving him an .873 OPS. He is as most Braves fans knew, not a one shot wonder but a superb professional hitter with versatility and baseball smarts most young players take a long time to learn.  IF the Braves are smart, they take a page out of Tampa’s playbook and offer him a contract that buys out his arbitration year and a couple of free agent years. I’d say a four year $36M contract – perhaps 7.5, 8.5, 9.5, 10.5 – with incentives is certainly something that should be considered. He likes Atlanta and the Braves fans love #MVPrado. It guarantees a quality player at a fair price. The $7.5M would be a bit more than his arbitration figure this year but looking past 2013 there is certainly payroll space to make that kind of offer. I’m going to say the Braves believe that too and commit $7.5 for 2013.

Last of this group is Jair Jurrjens. JJ has shown flashes of brilliance in his short career. he was 14-10 in 2009 with a less than sterling lineup behind him. In 2010 the injury bug bit him but he came back in the first half of last year to produce a 1.87 ERA, 1.066 WHIP and go 12-3 in 110 2/3 innings of work. He should have started the All Star game. Then his knee acted up on him and his second half produced a 5.88 ERA 1.645 WHIP and a 1-3 record in 41 1/3 innings. Knee surgery and a brace were supposed to repair the damage but this year he lost speed on his fastball and failed to locate his pitches. The results were so bad he’s currently at Gwinnett trying to sort things out. He’s not pitching well there either. IF the Braves tender JJ a contract they can only reduce this year’s amount by 20% making it a $4.4M contract. Unless there’s as shocking a positive turn around this year as his downturn slide was last I expect the Braves to either trade (though who would take him and for what I have no idea) or non-tender Jurrjens and let him walk away.

That’s A Wrap

For part one anyway. The only contract on the books next year is Dan Uggla’s $13.2M so adding the estimates form today the total is about $55.7M. Tomorrow I’ll get into the free agents we have to lose or sign and how we Michael Bourn, David Ross  and other issues. As always let me know how you feel about this or anything Braves related.

Tags: Brian Mccann Cristhian Martinez Eric O'flaherty Jair Jurrjens Jason Heyward Jonny Venters Martin Prado Tim Hudson

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