Jason Heyward Rumors

Quick Hits: Heyward, Masterson, Red Sox, Yankees

The Braves have signed Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel to long-term deals in recent weeks, but don't expect them to do the same with Jason Heyward, David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Heyward recently signed a two-year deal with Atlanta that did not delay his free-agency eligilibility, and now it will be difficult for the Braves to get Heyward to commit to a deal that's worth less per year than the $20MM-$22MM Freeman will get at a comparable point in his service-time clock. Here's more from the East divisions.

  • Homer Bailey's negotiations with the Reds could have an impact on Justin Masterson and the Indians, the Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes writes. Hoynes broke the news that Bailey and the Reds are in discussions about a six-year deal that could be worth $100MM, and a Bailey deal could set a precedent for an extension for Masterson, who was similarly valuable in 2013 and also is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.
  • The Yankees spent heavily this offseason, but they now have a injury-prone, top-heavy roster and little depth, Joel Sherman of the New York Post argues. That's especially true in their infield, although Sherman notes the situation might have been better if the Yankees had acquired Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante or Logan Forsythe, all of whom they pursued this offseason (Peralta and Infante on the free-agent market, and Forsythe via trade).
  • The Red Sox are making plans now that Ryan Dempster and his salary are out of the equation for 2014, writes CSNNE.com's Sean McAdam. McAdam writes that the Red Sox have known about Dempster's decision for the past two weeks and have been looking for a veteran free agent pitcher, but probably one who would start the season at Triple-A and provide depth. The Red Sox could also save Dempster's salary for a trade-deadline acquisition.
  • Stephen Drew and the Mets still aren't close on a contract, Newsday's Marc Carig reports. Carig also notes that the Mets have interest in former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, who is making his way back from Tommy John surgery. The Mets' level of interest may depend on how well the team does at the beginning of the season. Hanrahan is not expected to be ready to pitch until May.
  • The Phillies still aren't interested in rebuilding, writes USA Today's Bob Nightengale. "We're committed to this core. We want to surround them with the best possible players. In time, hopefully we'll be able to transition to some of younger players," says Phillies president David Montgomery. "But now, we want to give this group every chance to win.'' GM Ruben Amaro Jr., meanwhile, repeats that he expects the Phillies to do better this season because of improved health. "Listen, if Ryan [Howard] is on the field, we are winning games," Amaro says.

Braves Notes: Freeman, Heyward, Kimbrel, Uggla

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs looks at Freddie Freeman's massive eight-year, $135MM extension and concludes that the contract continues the trend of teams paying for youth over track record. Cameron notes that we saw a similar gamble with the Yankees' investment in Masahiro Tanaka — a player with literally no track record in the Majors but the allure of his prime years being for sale. Cameron draws comparisons to Ryan Braun and Shin-Soo Choo (whose contracts run through their mid-30s) in stating that the prime years of a "good-not-great" player are more valuable than the decline years of a superstar who is rewarded for what he has done rather than what he will do in the future. More on Freeman's deal and the Braves…

  • In an Insider-only blog post (subscription recommended), ESPN's Buster Olney writes that the Freeman extension has plenty of meaning for his teammates. For one, Olney feels that the deal all but guarantees that Jason Heyward will be playing elsewhere in 2016. Heyward will likely be too spendy for the Braves as a 26-year-old free agent if he plays well for the next two seasons, as the team won't be able to afford both him and Freeman. If Heyward doesn't play well enough to land a massive free agent deal, the Braves likely won't be interested in retaining him anyhow.
  • Likewise, Olney continues, the Braves are unlikely to be able to afford Craig Kimbrel in the long-term, and the Freeman contract gives the front office with "a greater foundation on which to explain to the fan base that difficult choices have to be made." Olney opines that the Braves would be wise to shop Kimbrel as soon as this summer, even if they are contending, as his value will be at its apex, and history shows that teams pay more for relievers in midseason trades than in offseason trades.
  • David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote earlier in the week (prior to yesterday's extensions) that though the Braves did not make any significant upgrades to their 2014 roster, the team is still well-positioned to contend. O'Brien points out that Atlanta will get a full season of Brandon Beachy to help offset the loss of Tim Hudson, adding that the Braves' rotation already ranked sixth in the Majors in ERA last season. Similarly, the Braves can expect ace setup man Jonny Venters back in May, which should further bolster their pitching staff.
  • O'Brien also addresses the unlikely issue of a Dan Uggla trade, noting that even with a monster Spring Training that had scouts starting to believe, the Braves would need to eat as much as $16-18MM of the remaining $26MM on his contract to facilitate a trade. In the event that they're able to trade Uggla, Atlanta would be content to let Tyler Pastornicky, Tommy La Stella and Ramiro Pena handle second base.

NL East Notes: Braves, Kimbrel, Nationals, Mets

Despite their "file and trial" stance with respect to the arbitration process, the Braves made clear today that the club did not extend its refusal to negotiate after exchanging figures to multi-year talks. After inking a two-year pact with Jason Heyward that did not extend club control, Atlanta promptly locked up Freddie Freeman to a long-term deal. The Heyward deal, in particular, reveals another benefit of the file-and-trial approach, writes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. By holding out on seemingly inconsequential portion of Heyward's salary, Atlanta obtained sufficient leverage to add another year (and attendant cost-certainty) to Heyward's contract. Here's more on the Braves' interesting arbitration season and the rest of the NL East:

  • Of course, Heyward's deal also provides security for the oft-DL'ed 24-year-old, though with his talent it is somewhat difficult to imagine any scenario where he would not have been tendered a contract next year. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links) that Heyward's representatives at Excel Sports Management approached the front office about a multi-year deal after exchanging figures. Though his spate of injuries (and correspondingly limited statistical production) hindered discussions, says Sherman, the gap was spanned and agreement reached on the value of Heyward's remaining arb-eligible years.
  • In spite of the deals with Heyward and Freeman, Atlanta remains all but certain to face a hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, reports Jeff Passon of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). With a substantial gap between Kimbrel's $9MM figure and the club's $6.55MM counter in Kimbrel's first year of arbitration eligibility, the outcome of that hearing (scheduled for February 17th) could go a long way toward determining the outstanding closer's future salary — and, potentially, even what uniform he will wear for the long haul.
  • After losing out on bench bat Jeff Baker, the Nationals are still on the hunt for late-off-season value, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. In particular, says Wagner, the Nats remain very interested in southpaw reliever Oliver Perez, who is reportedly close to choosing a team.
  • The Mets are still saying that a Stephen Drew signing remains a "long shot" for the club, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. We heard earlier today that New York had not made an offer to the free agent shortstop.

Braves Sign Jason Heyward To Two-Year Deal

11:35am: Heyman tweets the financial breakdown of the contract: Heyward receives a $1MM signing bonus, a $4.5MM salary in 2014 and a $7.8MM salary in 2015.

10:34am: David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (via Twitter) that Heyward's deal also contains performance escalators that could boost the value of his contract's second year.

Meanwhile, Wren tells MLB.com's Mark Bowman that the club still has a strict "file and trial" policy, but it doesn't apply to multi-year deals (Twitter link). In other words, they won't continue to negotiate one-year deals with Freeman or Kimbrel from this point forward, but extensions could still be reached. That approach is typical of many file and trial clubs.

10:08am: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Heyward's deal will pay him $13.3MM over the next two seasons.

10:00am: The Braves have issued a press release to announce the signing of right fielder Jason Heyward to a two-year contract. The contract, which covers the 2014-15 seasons, prevents Heyward and the Braves from going to an arbitration hearing. Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Braves.

Heyward, a client of Excel Sports Management, exchanged arbitration figures with the Braves last month. The 24-year-old former All-Star filed for a $5.5MM salary, while the Braves countered at $5.2MM. The gap between the two sides may seem small, but this is extension serves as a reminder that "file and trial" teams such as the Braves may still be open to negotiating multi-year deals after exchanging figures. This gives the Braves and their fans hope that the potential hearings for closer Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman can be similarly avoided.

"Jason is an important part of our organization and we’re glad that we were able to agree on a multi-year contract," said general manager Frank Wren within the release.

Though Heyward has never matched the on-base skills he displayed in his outstanding rookie season (.277/.393/.456), and his power dipped from 2012 to 2013 (27 homers/.210 ISO vs. 14 homers/.173 ISO), Heyward consistently turns in solid offensive contributions and elite defense in the outfield.

This new contract buys out his final two years of arbitration eligibility, meaning he's on track to become a free agent heading into his age-26 season. Cases such as that are so rare in today's world of extensions, that Heyward is poised to be one of the most coveted free agents in recent history should he stay healthy and not sign a further extension.

Poll: The Braves’ Potential Arbitration Hearings

One of the most notable "file and trial" teams in baseball, the Braves have a team policy that they will not negotiate once arbitration figures are submitted. This is of particular note given the fact that three of their best players — Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward — were unable to come to an agreement in advance of the filing deadline. Now, all three are likely headed for hearings.

The gap between Kimbrel and the Braves is the largest, as he submitted a $9MM figure while the Braves countered at $6.55MM. As MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz pointed out back in November, Kimbrel's arb case is perhaps the most interesting of the offseason as there is truly no precedent for a closer doing what he's done to this point of his career.

Freeman is fresh off his first All-Star nod and a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP voting. He's looking at a $1.25MM gap between his $5.75MM figure and the Braves' $4.5MM figure. The gap between the Braves and Heyward is a mere $300K ($5.5MM vs. $5.2MM), which one would think is small enough that an agreement can be worked out.

However, GM Frank Wren flatly said, "We're done," following the exchange of arb figures, indicating that he does indeed plan on heading to trials. It's worth noting that the team did avoid arbitration with Jeff Francoeur the night before his scheduled hearing back in 2009, but the team's strict policy has been adopted since that time. With all this said, let's vote on each case. You can keep track of the results by clicking here.

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Arbitration Links: Hearings, Braves, Duda

Bluebird Banter looks at both the Blue Jays' most recent arbitration hearings and, more importantly for the general MLBTR readership, the most recent arb hearing from each team. The Indians have gone the longest without an arbitration hearing, having not taken a case to court since Jerry Browne and Greg Swindell back in 1991. Anibal Sanchez and Emilio Bonifacio are the two most recent players to win arb hearings, both coming against the Marlins in 2012. The whole table is worth checking out, featuring notable names like Kyle Lohse, Andruw Jones, A.J. Pierzynski and Oliver Perez. Here are some more links related to the possible arb cases we could see next month …

  • With several star Braves players (Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, and Jason Heyward) set to face a hearing, writes MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the effects on the organization could be long-lasting. First of all, if Kimbrel wins the $9MM salary he has requested, he would set himself up for two more massive arb paydays that could force Atlanta to deal him. As for Freeman and Heyward, both of whom are represented by Excel Sports Management, Bowman says that the confrontational hearing process could potentially make it at least marginally harder (or, at least, more expensive) to keep them around for the long haul. 
  • The Mets will continue to negotiate with first baseman/outfielder Lucas Duda after exchanging numbers, reports Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. The respective salary submissions ($1.35MM vs. $1.9MM) did not fall among the most difficult-to-bridge gaps, as noted in my roundup of notable arbitration situations from Friday.
  • Club GM Sandy Alderson also said today (courtesy of Rubin) that Duda could see time in the outfield next year, and could conceivably break camp with the Mets alongside Ike Davis. Since Duda has an option remaining, his 2015 arbitration case could suffer from a lack of playing time if he does not force his way onto the active roster for a substantial portion of the coming season.

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.


Arbitration Filing Numbers

MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker is the place to go to see the arbitration contracts agreed upon thus far, as well as the figures exchanged between teams and players that were not able to reach agreement before today's noon deadline to swap salary positions. Matt Swartz's arbitration projections are available here.

As MLBTR has previously explained, 146 players officially filed for arbitration (after some eligible and tendered players had alread reached agreement). Of those, 40 players will exchange figures with their clubs. Of course, those players can still reach agreements before their hearings (which will take place betwee February 1st and 21st). If the case goes to a hearing, the arbitrator must choose one side's figures, rather than settling on a midpoint.

For the Braves players listed below, however, Atlanta says it will cease negotiations and take all cases to a hearing. Two other teams that have swapped figures with some players — the Nationals and Indians — also have employed variations of the "file and trial" approach with their arbitration cases.

Though a tweet from FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal indicates that the Reds have joined the list of teams employing "file and trial," GM Walt Jocketty did not seem to echo that position in comments today to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. It turns out that the team has only taken that position with respect to players whose deals were valued under the $2MM level, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.

We will use this post to keep tabs on the the highest-stakes arbitration situations remaining — those where the player files for at least $4.5MM:

Braves Will Go To Arbitration Hearings With Kimbrel, Freeman, Heyward

Braves GM Frank Wren says that his club will take its arbitration case to a hearing with the club's three remaining arbitration-filing players, reports David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). Wren says that the club will not have any further negotiations with closer Craig Kimbrel, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and outfielder Jason Heyward.

The Braves are a noted "file and trial" club, and Wren's statements indicate that the club intends to stand by its position. "We have an organization philosophy of the filing date is our last date to negotiate prior to a hearing," said Wren. "We're done." None of the other "file and trial" clubs — the Blue Jays, Marlins, Pirates, Rays, Reds, and White Sox — has any players yet to reach agreement. (The Pirates and Reds are new additions to the list, per tweets from MLBTR's Tim Dierkes and FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal.) For the first time ever, no players went to an arbitration hearing last year, but that apparently will not be the case for 2014.

As O'Brien explains, the Braves have not had a hearing since John Rocker back in 2001. The club avoided arbitration in 2009 with Jeff Francoeur just before a hearing, but has adopted its strict negotiating policy since that time.

Needless to say, those three players represent both a critical component of the team's young core and a substantial portion of its current and future payroll. Kimbrel, in particular, represents a fascinating arbitration case given his historic early-career performance from the back end of the pen. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him to earn a $7.25MM salary in his first trip through arbitration, with Freeman and Heyward projected to take home $4.9MM and $4.5MM, respectively.

Wren discussed the club's negotiations as well, as Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports on Twitter"At the end of the day," Wren said, "we went well above the recommended salary arbitration numbers for all of our players."

The filing splits between player and team show that the Braves' filing numbers were in the ballpark of Swartz's projections. (The club may, of course, have been willing to go somewhat higher to avoid a hearing.) Kimbrel asked for $9MM, with the team countering at $6.55MM, while Freeman ($5.75MM vs. $4.5MM) and Heyward ($5.5MM vs. $5.2MM) also landed right around the projected dollar amounts.

NL Notes: Mets, Cardinals, Braves

The Mets made one of the best under-the-radar improvements this offseason by upgrading their outfield defense, ESPN's Mike Petriello writes (Insider-only). With Juan Lagares starting in center field for the entire season, and Curtis Granderson and Chris Young on either side of him, the Mets should be much better off defensively than they were with Lucas Duda and others last season. Petriello also lists the Cardinals' defense, in both the infield and the outfield, as one that should be dramatically improved as a result of this offseason's moves. The Cardinals acquired Peter Bourjos for David Freese, improving their outfield while allowing Matt Carpenter to shift back to third. Another new addition, Mark Ellis, figures to help at second base. Here are more notes from the National League.

Poll: Who Will Sign An Extension This May?

Let's start the weekend up with a poll. As MLBTR's Steve Adams noted recently, two young stars (Adam Jones and Miguel Montero) signed significant extensions during May of 2012. While there have not been significant rumblings about any similar deals recently, the Jones and Montero deals both sprung up with relatively little advance buzz: Jones said he was not aware of any talks with the Orioles just a month before his six-year, $85.5MM deal was inked. And the build up to Montero's five-year, $60MM extension consisted largely of the Diamondbacks' acknowledgement that the team was open to in-season negotiations.

Jones had one year of arbitration eligibility remaining when he signed, while Montero would have become a free agent at the end of the year. Both were relatively young (26 and 28, respectively) and fairly well established as above-average players at premium defensive positions. And each had been with their teams for all or virtually all of their big league careers.

With those deals in mind, let's take a look at some generally comparable position players who could be positioned for similar deals. We will not include Robinson Cano, as he is at a different level of performance and contract extension, along with being somewhat older. Anyhow, we already asked MLBTR readers what they think about the likelihood of a Cano extension. Likewise, we'll leave out Chase Headley, given his recent comments. (Also, MLBTR readers just weighed in on a possible Headley extension, with the majority believing a trade was more likely than an extension.) 

The Nationals' Ian Desmond, 27, has continued to build off of his emergence last year. He sports a .296/.311/.530 line, although he has also registered seven early errors. The shortstop has spent his entire career in the former-Expos organization, and is poised to hit the open market in 2016. We know the Nats are open to negotiating an extension with Desmond, and the Elvis Andrus signing provides a relevant (albeit imperfect) point of reference

Orioles' catcher Matt Wieters is another obvious candidate. He will turn 27 later this month, and is looking at free agency in 2016. Ongoing negotiations between Wieters and the O's are seemingly at a simmer, but could pick up at any time. While Wieters is off to a bit of a slow start, slashing just .224/.297/.388 to date, he also probably had less to prove this season than Desmond.

Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, 29, is similarly situated to Montero. He has played his entire career in Boston, but is set to become a free agent after the season. While the center fielder has not returned to his MVP-level 2011 season, when he exploded for 32 home runs, he has bounced back from his injury-shortened 2012. Thus far, his batting line (.286/.338/.405) and league-leading steal totals (11) are right in line with his strong 2008-2009 seasons. While both player and team appear interested in discussing an extension, Ellsbury's representation by Scott Boras — and the possibility that he could significantly raise his value with an injury-free 2013 — could make a deal unlikely.

Jason Heyward of the Braves is two years from free agency at just 23 years old, but as MLBTR's Tim Dierkes notes, the cost-conscious Braves could look to extend him. Heyward is currently on the DL after undergoing an appendectomy, and has had a poor start to the year. Nevertheless, he has established himself as few big leaguers have at his age. 

Austin Jackson, the Tigers' center fielder, is a young 26 and still two years from free agency. He is also a client of Scott Boras. But his strong early track record could make him a target for Detroit to try and lock up early. With so many big-money free agent deals on the books, it could make sense for the Tigers to try and save on Jackson by guaranteeing him money in advance. Jackson is off to another good start, putting up a .293/.356/.407 line to go with five steals.