Craig Kimbrel's arbitration poses issue for Braves

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves have had dates set for their arbitration hearings with Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward.

Update: Heyward has agreed to a two-year deal worth $13.3 million with the Braves, buying out both his remaining years of arbitration.

Dates have been set for arbitration hearings between the Atlanta Braves and their three remaining arb-eligible players, reports David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

First baseman Freddie Freeman will have his hearing on Feb. 11. Two days later, right fielder Jason Heyward will find out what his salary will be in 2014. Then, on July 17, closer Craig Kimbrel will have his turn. Freeman and Kimbrel are both in their first year of arbitration-eligibility while this is Heywards second go.

Kimbrel will become the highest paid of the three regardless of whether he or the team wins the case. The team offered him $6.55 million while Kimbrel filed for $9 million, a $2.45 million difference. The record for a reliever in arbitration was set by Jonathan Papelbon, who received $12 million in his third year of eligibility. Kimbrel may be on pace to break that record as early as next year.

If Kimbrel does win his case and is on track to only become higher paid, the Braves may be forced to part ways with him sooner than they would like. The team is locked into the notion of staying around a $90 million payroll and spending big money on a relief pitcher might not fit the club's plan. Typically a player's first year of arbitration lands at around 40 percent of his free agent value, with the second year being 60 percent and the third 80 percent. If Kimbrel makes $9 million in 2014, that puts him on pace to earn around $22.5 million per year as a free agent.

The Braves would certainly be unlikely to non-tender Kimbrel, but the possibility of him being traded within the next two years goes up drastically if he wins his case. A team like the Yankees, who have deep pockets and a need at closer, could certainly be an option to acquire him. Kimbrel has been the best closer in baseball over the last three seasons, leading the league in saves each year and posting an incredible career 1.39 ERA.

The Braves' other first-year arbitration eligible player, Freddie Freeman, filed for $5.75 million while the team put in a number of $4.5 million. After two nice but not great years at the plate, Freeman broke out with a .319/.396/.501 line in 2013 while socking 23 home runs and eclipsing 100 RBI for the first time. A key component of the team's offense, the Braves are probably hoping Freeman sticks around for a long time.

Ditto with Heyward, who had the smallest difference between what he filed for ($5.5 million) and what the team offered ($5.2 million). Given the fact that $300,000 is not a lot of money when it comes to player contracts, one might think the two sides would agree before ever reaching what could be a messy hearing. However, General Manager Frank Wren says the team is done working out deals with their arb-eligible players, stating the club's philosophy is to cease negotiations following the filing date.

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