Braves headed to arbitration with Kimbrel, Freeman

Young stars headed to arbitration hearings

The Atlanta Braves understand the potential damage that can be caused during an arbitration hearing, which is why they struck a deal with former outfielder Jeff Francoeur on the eve of a session in 2009.

This year, though, the Braves are headed to hearings with three of their top young players — closer Craig Kimbrel, first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Jason Heyward.

A contract deal with any of the three can still be struck, but the team now has a policy of not negotiating after the exchange of arbitration figures.

“We’re done,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.

Kimbrel and Freeman — both in the first year of arbitration eligibility — will get big raises. The question is just how big, which could further impact the team’s payroll flexibility for 2014.

Kimbrel, the youngest pitcher to record 50 saves, asked for $9 million, while the Braves countered with $6.55 million — still more than the record for a player in the first year of arbitration eligibility. Kimbrel, who has led or tied for the National League lead in saves each of his first three full seasons, made $655,000 in 2013.

Freeman, who finished fourth in NL MVP voting, filed at $5.75 million, compared to the Braves’ figure of $4.5 million. He made $560,000 last season, when he hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs.

The gap is the smallest with Heyward, in his second year of arbitration eligibility. He requested $5.5 million and the Braves offered $5.2 million. He made $3.65 million in 2013, when he was limited to 104 games by injuries.

The Braves did sign four players before Friday’s deadline for exchanging arbitration figures and three got big raises as expected.

Kris Medlen more than doubled his salary, signing for $5.8 million after winning 15 games, and Mike Minor went from $505,000 to $3.85 million after 13 victories in 2013.

Third baseman Chris Johnson, who hit .321 in his first season with the Braves, will get $4.75 million in 2014 compared to $2.78 million in 2013.

Reserve outfielder Jordan Schafer, who also reached a deal, will see his contract double, to $1.09 million.

The substantial salary jumps for arbitration-eligible players is one of the reasons that the Braves couldn’t be overly active this offseason. They earlier signed starter Brandon Beachy, relievers Jordan Walden and Jonny Venters, and infielder Ramiro Pena.

The last time the Braves went to an arbitration hearing was with reliever John Rocker in 2001. They were prepared to do so with third baseman Martin Prado a year ago, but traded him to Arizona as part of the deal for outfielder Justin Upton.