One of the final events of Major League Baseball’s offseason calendar will take place this Friday, January 13, which is the deadline for arbitration-eligible players and clubs to formally exchange salary figures. The Braves currently have a group of five players who are arbitration eligible and have not yet agreed to terms for the upcoming season.
Note that teams and players are not forbidden from negotiating after the deadline. However, the Braves are one of a growing number of “file and trial” teams, which means that they do actually treat the deadline as a deadline, and won’t negotiate on a single-year contract after that it passes. The date’s broader meaning is that it is when teams and players must exchange their final salary proposals for the upcoming season. That way, both the team and the player’s representation can prepare their presentation to the arbitrator, arguing that the player is deserving of one number, and not the number proposed by the opposing side. As a reminder, arbitrators are not allowed to split the difference, but must pick one of the two proposed salary figures.
The quintet of Braves players that will go through arbitration unless an agreement is reached this week is headlined by left-handed starter Max Fried and lefty reliever A.J. Minter. Below is a look at each player as well as their projected salary through arbitration per MLB Trade Rumors.
Max Fried - LHP ($12,200,000)
Fried is arbitration-eligible for the third time this offseason and is looking at a substantial raise over the $6.85 million he made in 2022. Fried turned in another excellent season, posting a 2.48 ERA and a 2.70 FIP while throwing a career-high 185.1 innings. He put up 5.0 fWAR in 2022 and has produced 10.3 fWAR dating back to 2020.
Fried won his arbitration case for 2022, earning a raise of $250,000 over the $6.6 million the Braves proposed. He projects to get a pretty big raise, even considering that he’s in the third year of a four-year arbitration eligibility array: a “dumb” model that saw an Arb2-of-4 pitcher earn $6.85 million would assume an Arb3 salary of $10.38 million, whereas Fried projects via the smarter MLB Trade Rumors/Matt Swartz model to clear that by nearly $2 million. It’ll be moderately interesting to see if his side submits a number above $14 million, especially if they expect the Braves to again come in on the low side.
A.J. Minter - LHP ($5,000,000)
Minter followed up an excellent run during the 2021 season with his best season as a professional in 2022, posting a 2.06 ERA and a 2.68 FIP while posting career highs in appearances (75) and innings pitched (70.0). MLB Trade Rumors projects him for $5,000,000 which is more than double the $2.2 million he and the Braves agreed on for last season.
Like Fried, his MLBTR/Matt Swartz-projected salary is way higher than what a dumb model would estimate for an Arb2-of-4 that earned $2.2 million last year, i.e., around $3.3 million. That said, it’s hard to see his side submitting a number much above $5 million, given the way the arbitration system seems to reward saves and do relatively little for all other relievers.
Joe Jimenez - RHP ($2,600,000)
The Braves acquired Jimenez from the Tigers in exchange for prospects Justyn-Henry Malloy and Jake Higginbotham earlier this offseason. Jimenez is coming off of a solid season in Detroit where he put up a 3.49 ERA and a 2.00 FIP in 56.2 innings. 9 mill
This will be Jimenez’ third, and final, arbitration go-around. He made $1.79 million last season on a deal that avoided going to a hearing; a dumb model estimates around $2.69 million, basically in agreement with the MLBTR/Matt Swartz model. Jimenez’ side could try to run their proposed number higher, like $3.2 million, but again, with a lack of saves, their flexibility to go much over the mid-$2 million range and win is pretty limited.
Lucas Luetge - LHP ($1,700,000)
Atlanta acquired Luetge in a trade with the Yankees for minor league reliever Indigo Diaz and infielder Caleb Durbin in late December. Luetge had been designated for assignment by the Yankees due to a roster crunch. Luetge appeared in 50 games with New York last season and posted a 2.67 ERA and a 3.02 FIP in 57.1 innings.
Luetge made $905,000 in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and is the rare to-be-36-year-old that will be going through arbitration a second time, with one more year still to go. A dumb model projects him to get something like $1.45 million rather than the $1.7 million estimate; Luetge’s lack of particularly impressive counting stats means his side might be incentivized to agree with the Braves on something ahead of Friday lest he get lowballed by the team and still lose the hearing.
Dennis Santana - RHP ($1,100,000)
Last on the list is right-handed reliever Dennis Santana, whom the Braves acquired from Texas on November 15 in exchange for cash considerations. Santana appeared in 63 games for the Rangers in 2022. Santana had a 5.22 ERA in 58.2 innings, but his 3.35 FIP tells a bit of a different story... though then his 4.19 xFIP tells a third story that’s probably a better one than either of the other two.
This is Santana’s first year of arbitration eligibility, and in some ways, it would be surprising to see him hold out and head to a hearing given his awful ERA and lack of good counting stats from last year, especially given that he’s likely to get somewhere around that projected $1.1 million if he and the Braves come to terms in the next week. If he goes to a hearing, we don’t envy the gymnastics his representation will need to employ to offer much above league minimum.
The list of arbitration-eligible Braves has changed as the offseason has progressed, and not just because the Braves acquired the trio of Jimenez, Luetge, and Santana. Atlanta designated Guillermo Heredia and Silvino Bracho for assignment and non-tendered them early in the offseason. They agreed to a one-year, $2.8 million deal with Mike Soroka and a two-year $3.1 million deal with Tyler Matzek ahead of the non-tender deadline.
Catcher Sean Murphy was also arbitration-eligible before the Braves locked him up to a six-year, $73 million extension on December 27.
Note that the Braves are, in some ways, extra-incentivized to shave fractions of a million off these salaries given their status as a luxury tax team; however, the more they attempt to get a discount, the greater chance they head to a hearing and lose, so don’t expect anything other than business as usual from the team in this regard.