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A.J. Minter heads to salary arbitration

On the heels of an arbitration hearing to decide his 2024 salary, could this be A.J. Minter’s final season in Atlanta?

Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies - Game Four Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

This Friday, teams and arbitration-eligible players without a signed contract for the 2024 season will exchange salary arbitration figures. The Atlanta Braves have whittled their long list of arbitration-eligible players without a locked-in salary from 13 at the start of the offseason to just two, at this point: A.J. Minter Max Fried. Today, we are going to take a closer look at Minter and his status with the Braves heading into the 2024 season.

Performance-wise, Minter has been an elite reliever, and the Braves’ best relief pitcher in each of the last three seasons in terms of fWAR. In fact, he’s seventh in MLB in reliever fWAR in that span, just barely ahead of teammate Raisel Iglesias.

He has been a shining example of durability over that span as well, appearing in 206 games (fourth-highest among relievers over the past three years) while logging 187 innings (20th-highest).

Minter had a slow start results-wise in 2023, posting an 8.53 ERA in April, but his 2.62 FIP and 3.56 xFIP during that span tell a different story. Minter recorded 10 saves during 2023 and began the season as the de facto closer with Raisel Iglesias on the shelf. His ERA again hovered above his peripherals in May, but then he largely dominated without the poor luck the rest of the way. In that sense, his 2023 was consistent with past years, as he once again served as a backend bullpen fixture to guide the team through high leverage situations. He figures to once again fill the fireman/security blanket role for the Braves, manager Brian Snitker, and pitching coach Rick Kranitz in 2024.

But, Minter is only under team control for one more year, so it remains to be seen whether it’s 2024 and see ya later for the left-hander. There’s not much point in trying to read anything into the fact that Minter and the Braves were able to avoid arbitration in each of the past three years but haven’t yet come to terms (and look like they won’t) this year; either way, unless the Braves extend him before 2024-2025 free agency opens, he’ll hit the market.

Given his performance, he is certainly due a salary bump. Minter and the Braves agreed to a $1.3 million salary for the 2021 season, when he was a Super Two. The following year, they agreed on $2.2 million, reflecting a pretty generic raise. For 2023, the agreement was for a $4.3 million payday, which was an interesting total: the “standard” raise between Arb2 and Arb3 for a Super Two would’ve put Minter at around $3.3 million, but Matt Swartz’ model as evinced by MLB Trade Rumors suggested a salary of $5.0 million; Minter and the Braves essentially split the difference, which resulted in a nice pay bump.

This time around, using his 2023 Arb3 salary as a benchmark, the “standard” raise would entail a salary of around $6.0 million, while the Swartz model forecasts $6.5 million. It seems like Minter and the Braves could have again split the difference and found something in that range to work with, but given the lack of noise on this front so far, it looks like they’ll head to a hearing with the numbers they end up exchanging on Friday.

While contributions from non-closing relievers tend to be somewhat discounted in arbitration hearings, Minter’s camp was nonetheless able to leverage their way into larger-than-average pay raises the past two years. Assuming that no extension happens, he’ll hit the free agent market ahead of his age-31 season, where he’ll probably collect an expectedly-meatier deal than his 2024 arbitration-decided salary.

Curiously, while the Braves have shown their willingness to pay sizable dollars to relievers over the past several offseasons, and have gone a bit wild with the strategy over the past few months, Minter hasn’t been part of that group. An extension with Minter seemed like a way for the Braves to get some breathing room against the looming CBT thresholds that was consistent with their past practice, but the Braves went that way with Chris Sale rather than Minter. Sure, they still have a few days to do so again, but the clock is ticking. As it ticks more, you wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Minter in Atlanta. The Braves added Aaron Bummer and Ray Kerr to serve as lefty options alongside Dylan Lee, Tyler Matzek, and Minter already, and Angel Perdomo might be around and healthy in 2025 as well.

If Minter and the Braves don’t agree to terms this week, it’ll be interesting to see how far apart they are. While the figures exchanged are not a camp’s final estimation of value, but rather the figure they “go to war” with during the arbitration hearing, we won’t be able to read much into how close or far apart the figures are — but we’re sure it’ll fuel speculation about Minter’s future, or lack thereof, in Atlanta all the same. Lastly, keep in mind that even “trial and file” teams are not adverse to signing extensions after the figure exchange deadline — the “file and trial” thing tends to only apply to single-year deals that would avoid arbitration and do nothing else.

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