Matt Swartz has developed a very accurate model that MLBTR uses to project arbitration salaries, as explained in this series of posts. We've heard from many MLB teams and agencies that reference the projections in their work. The Braves are next in our series. Estimated service time is in parentheses, and estimated 2014 salary follows.
- Craig Kimbrel (3.066): $7.25MM
- Kris Medlen (4.137): $5.9MM
- Freddie Freeman (3.033): $4.9MM
- Jason Heyward (4.000): $4.5MM
- Chris Johnson (3.144): $4.2MM
- Mike Minor (2.138, Super Two): $3.5MM
- Jonny Venters (4.000): $1.625MM
- Jordan Walden (3.043): $1.5MM
- Jordan Schafer (3.121): $1MM
- Elliot Johnson (3.028): $900K
- Brandon Beachy (3.014): $900K
- Cristhian Martinez (3.158): $750K
- Paul Janish (4.115): $725K
- Ramiro Pena (3.089): $600K
Kimbrel's arbitration case is so incredible, we created a rule around it to limit his salary. Since his salary could escalate like no other reliever's has before, the Braves could try to get out in front of the situation and sign him to a multiyear deal. It's difficult to imagine buying out his three arbitration years for less than $25MM, and free agent years could cost $13MM apiece. There is no template here, and the safe bet for the Braves is to go year-to-year.
Medlen followed up his stellar 2012 with a strong 3.11 ERA in 197 regular season innings. A Tommy John survivor, Medlen is quietly closing in on free agency after the 2015 season. If the Braves want to lock him up, Matt Harrison's five-year, $55MM deal could be a starting point. The arbitration cases of Jeff Samardzija, Ian Kennedy, Mike Leake, and Doug Fister will be relevant to Medlen this winter, as all of them are in the four-plus service class.
The Braves may also want to look into locking up Minor, who achieves Super Two status after posting a 3.21 ERA in 204 2/3 innings. Gio Gonzalez, also a Super Two at the time, signed a five-year, $42MM deal prior to the 2012 season, which is still a record for a two-plus pitcher.
Beachy doesn't project to earn much his first time through arbitration, as he has only 267 2/3 career innings and only 111 over 2012-13 due to Tommy John surgery. He's still not all the way back, with arthroscopic elbow surgery being done in September. He'll be in the Braves' rotation mix next year if healthy.
Freeman put together an MVP-caliber year at first base, hitting .319 with 23 home runs and 109 RBI. On an extension, he'd easily be able to top Billy Butler's four-year, $30MM deal, which will be four years old come January. RBIs pay in arbitration and free agency, and Freeman has 203 over the last two years. He may just go year-to-year and watch his salary rise rapidly from our already-solid projected starting point of $4.9MM. Though the Braves have traditional extension candidates in Kimbrel, Medlen, Minor, and Freeman, they have rarely done these types of deals. Brian McCann's 2007 contract is the most recent example.
A year ago, Heyward was one of the game's best young players not signed to a multiyear extension. Though he had another strong season, he missed time due to an appendectomy, hamstring strain, and fractured jaw in 2013. He'll play at age 24 next year and seems primed for a big season. Johnson, meanwhile, contended for the NL batting title and finished with a .321 average. Unlike this year, he won't have to worry about having a platoon partner at third base to begin the 2014 season.
Turning to the Braves' bench, Schafer battled injuries but was a useful fourth outfielder. Infielder Ramiro Pena was off to a nice start until a shoulder injury ended his season in June. He hopes to be ready for spring training after having surgery. Elliot Johnson joined the Royals as the player to be named later in the James Shields–Wil Myers deal, after being designated for assignment. He was the team's regular second baseman at times, but was designated for assignment again in August. The Braves claimed him off waivers, and he was their starter in the playoffs at second base over Dan Uggla. Though Johnson wasn't particularly good in 2013, I think the Braves will keep him given the uncertainty with Pena. Janish has a low salary projection, but seems likely to be non-tendered after giving way to Johnson this year.
Finishing up the Braves' sizeable group, Walden, Venters, and Martinez are also up for arbitration. Walden is secure after posting a 3.45 ERA with a 10.3 K/9 in 47 innings. Venters had his second career Tommy John surgery in May, and faces a lower success rate than those who had the procedure once. We project his salary to stay at the $1.625MM he earned in 2013, though as we saw with the Royals and Felipe Paulino, a slight pay cut is possible. Venters stands a decent chance of being non-tendered. Also on thin ice is Cristhian Martinez, who had shoulder surgery in July.
Assuming the Braves tender contracts to Kimbrel, Medlen, Freeman, Heyward, Chris Johnson, Minor, Walden, Schafer, Elliot Johnson, Beachy, and Pena, they're looking at an estimated $35.15MM for 11 arbitration eligible players.