Kevin C. Cox
Do the Braves punish players who force a salary arbitration hearing.
I'm the master of reading into things that other people say or write. That's probably what makes me a good blogger. As a blogger without regular access to the team or the players I have to find the crumbs that fall through the cracks of other stories or the nuggets that are buried in stories that I believe can be polished into something more.
I say these things as a disclaimer, more or less, so that as I read into and extrapolate info from this next little nugget of a quote, you won't roll your eyes at me.
There are still a lot of Atlanta Braves fans who ask me how the team could have traded such a good player, and such a popular player -- popular with the fans and the other players -- in Martin Prado. How could such a player be considered available by Atlanta? It's hard to part with popular players, so it's understandable that many fans (and some players) were shocked by his inclusion in the trade.
Since the trade we have highlighted (here and here) some of the arguments for why Prado might have been traded (aside from the fact that the Braves really wanted Justin Upton). The arguments basically boil down to money.
John Coppolella is the Assistant General Manager and Director of Pro Scouting for the Atlanta Braves, and he occasionally contributes to Baseball Prospectus. In his most recent column on the arbitration process he pointed out the rarity of the Braves going to an arbitration hearing:
The Atlanta Braves haven't been to an arbitration hearing since 2001 with John Rocker, but we were planning to go this year with Martin Prado before he was traded last week in a deal for Justin Upton. We employ a "file to go" strategy, meaning that if we don't reach a settlement by the filing date we shut down negotiations and prepare to go to a hearing. It's a strategy employed by a handful of teams, with the goal being to speed up negotiations before the file date and foster a quicker path toward a settlement.
My jaw dropped on that quote. I had not realized it had been that long since the Braves have had an arbitration hearing. If my memory serves me correctly, I recall that they came very close to a hearing with Jeff Francoeur in 2009, and indeed a quick Google of the Internets revealed that the Braves and Jeffrey settled on a contract the day before they were scheduled to go to the arbitration hearing.
Rocker was traded away during the season in 2001, Francoeur was traded away during the season in 2009, and Prado was traded before a hearing could even take place -- all three players were gone within a few months of forcing an arbitration hearing. The Braves really don't like arbitration hearings, and it certainly seems like they punish the players who decide to opt for a hearing instead of setting on a contract.
Now this could just be me reading into things, but it's starting to look like a pattern. The Braves don't like it when a player or his agent takes them to the mat on arbitration salaries. They certainly seem to want to cut-and-run from these players, almost like it's a policy, or a tool they use to scare or badger other players (and their agents) into accepting their numbers for arbitration.
It's curious, and seems to be pretty effective. I'll be keeping this in mind in future years. The Braves could conceivably have half their players eligible for arbitration next year.