Jul 28, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals during the ninth inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Cardinals 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Curious Arbitration Case of Craig Kimbrel

It’s arbitration time! There were seven Braves that filed for salary arbitration before the deadline this past Tuesday. Each of these players will exchange salary figures with the Braves on Friday, and with the Braves being a “file and trial” team, if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the Braves will end negotiations and will just accept the figures that the arbiters give them. I will go through each of these guys here and what they are expected to get if their cases go to arbitration.

Lets start off with the best reliever in baseball, Craig Kimbrel. This will be Craig’s first year being eligible for arbitration and no one really knows what to predict. Here are just a few of the reasons why Kimbrel is about to break arbitration records. In his 3 full seasons in the majors, he has made the All-Star team each year, won the NL Rookie of the Year award, led the NL in saves each year, finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting each year, struck out 341 of the 795 batters he has faced (43%, more than twice the league average), struck out almost 15 per 9 innings pitched, and put up countless other ridiculous stats.

The largest first-year salary for a closer in arbitration ever was Jonathon Papelbon, who received $6.25 million. Let’s compare Papelbon’s stats for his 3 years prior to arbitration versus Kimbrel’s stats.

  • Papelbon – 196 IP, 113 saves, 1.70 ERA, 236 Ks
  • Kimbrel – 206.2 IP, 138 saves, 1.48 ERA, 341 Ks

As you can see, Kimbrel basically blows Papelbon’s numbers out of the water. Craig has put up better numbers than any closer EVER in his first 3 full seasons. It seems like $7 million will be the basement figure when looking at Kimbrel’s raise. Just imagine, for his past three elite seasons, the Braves have only paid Kimbrel a total of around $1.6 million.

There are four other Braves going through their first arbitration this year: Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Mike Minor and Jordan Schafer. Freeman is expected to see the biggest raise after his excellent 2013 season. Freeman finished 4th in the NL MVP race last year where he posted a .319 average with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. I am expecting Freddie to get somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million next season and really hope they can get him signed to some kind of extension before next year’s arbitration. Chris Johnson had a career year in 2013 and the arbiters will most definitely pay him for it. CJ2.0 lead the NL in hitting most of last season and ended up finishing second in the race for the batting title at .321, but didn’t put up quite the power numbers or solid defense of Freeman. I think CJ2.0 will score a salary around $4 million for this upcoming season.

In addition to Freeman and Johnson, I also look for Mike Minor to get in the neighborhood of $4 million through arbitration. Minor was really good last season before fading a bit down the stretch, posting a 3.21 ERA in his 204.2 innings last year. It feels safe to say Minor that was one of the top 10 pitchers in the NL in 2013.  A great bargain at his projected $4 million. Lastly, we have Jordan Schafer. Schafer had the best year of his career last year, but did have some injury problems and is only really a fourth outfielder. He was good on the base-paths and filled in quite well for BJ Upton in center but was very ineffective after coming back from his injuries later in the season. I would expect Jordan to get around $1 million, maybe a bit less.

Two more Braves are going through their second arbitration eligible off-season, Jason Heyward and Kris Medlen. I’ll start with Kris. In my opinion, Kris Medlen is extremely underrated. Medlen has now started 61 games in his career and has an ERA of 2.96 with over 6 innings pitched per start.  Is he an ace? No, but he is a solid #2 starter that can be flat-out dominant at times. I still can’t believe there were many fans last season that wanted to ship him out to the bullpen. Last year, Kris earned $2.6 million and I expect that he will get somewhere around the $6 million mark this time around.

Jason Heyward is also an interesting case in my opinion. Jason earned $3.6 million last year in his first arbitration eligible season and might not get as big of a raise as some might think. It has to be considered that he missed significant time last year because of injuries (broken jaw, hamstring) and what I would call an act of God (appendectomy), plus he was flat-out bad at the beginning of the year. Because of those factors, the Braves will probably get a huge bargain for Heyward and only have to give him a raise of about $1 million. I find it interesting that even though Heyward is a year ahead of Freeman in service time he will probably be making around the same as him, maybe a bit less. Heyward is the poster child for the “advanced stats” group. Fortunately for the Braves, Heyward’s worth isn’t in the every day stats that would earn him a huge pay raise. It is hard to believe Jason is still only 24 years old, though, and I honestly think he is primed for a big season in 2014.

After all is said and done, the Braves will probably be paying between $28-30 million dollars towards their 2014 payroll for these 7 arbitration eligible players, which if you think about it, is still a huge bargain. In other words, the Braves will pay Kimbrel, Heyward, Medlen, Freeman, Chris Johnson, Minor and Schafer LESS than the Dodgers will pay Clayton Kershaw next season.

Stay tuned for coverage as the actual numbers are made public.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Chris Johnson Craig Kimbrel Freddie Freeman Jason Heyward Kris Medlen

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