Jason Heyward and the Atlanta Braves have agreed to a new two-year contract worth $13.3 million. It will allow the outfielder and the club to avoid arbitration.
When filing arbitration numbers last month, Heyward asked for $5.5 million and the team offered $5.2 million. That's pretty close. Problem is, the Braves have a long-standing policy of not negotiating after the numbers have been exchanged. Many clubs will meet their players in the middle to avoid an arbitration hearing. Not the Braves.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports delved into the Braves strategy last week. It's something called "file and trial."
The players and their agents knew that Atlanta is one of about a half-dozen teams that stops negotiating after an exchange of salary figures, forcing the two sides to go to a hearing. The policy, at first glance, seems unnecessarily inflexible. But the Braves, sources say, employ the “file-and-trial” to force both sides to engage in serious talks quickly, then file realistic proposals if no agreement is reached.
Many clubs, perhaps even half, refuse to take their players to arbitration. Agents, sensing weakness, file artificially high numbers that lead to artificially high settlements, costing clubs hundreds of thousands of dollars. For the Braves, a team that had a major-league-high 14 players eligible for salary arbitration, the difference could have amounted to an estimated $3 million to $5 million in payroll.
The “file-and-trial” is intended to eliminate such fat; agents, in theory, are less likely to file an excessive number knowing that settlements are unattainable once figures are exchanged. The problem is that the Braves do not operate in a vacuum. They essentially rely on the other 29 teams to hold the line, and some of those teams are more generous with their arbitration-eligible players than others.
This is extra noteworthy because the Braves have two more young stars in the same arbitration-pending position — closer Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Both players were further apart than Heyward in their arbitration filings. Kimbrel asked for $9 million while the team offered $6.55 million. Freeman filed at $5.75 million while the team countered with $4.55 million. Freeman's arbitration hearing begins Feb. 11 and Kimbrel's starts Feb. 17.
Might they avoid arbitration too? Depends on what type on deal their agents want to negotiate. General manager Frank Wren said after the Heyward deal the team will budge on multi-year deals, but not one-year contracts.
#Braves Wren said file-and-trial strategy is strict, with only exception being for multi-yr contract negotiations
— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) February 4, 2014
Heyward's deal now locks him in with the Braves until he's a free agent in 2016. Freeman and Kimbrel aren't free agents until 2017. They could go for a Heyward-type deal and avoid all this in years to come, or they can try their luck at "file and trial."
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