Jason Heyward and the Braves are going to the arbitration panel. They couldn't agree on a compromise because of a difference of $300,000. Of course, everything depends on perspective, but within the absurd economic theater of baseball, that's nothing.
Now, you may be saying, "Oh, poor Jason Heyward. He's so impoverished now, eeehghgnnnn," in your default sarcastic voice that doesn't actually sound like anyone.
And if you are, you've got a point, sort of. It can be hard to to empathize with a guy who has earned over $5 million before turning 25 because he's good at playing a game. I mean, give me a couple of tries in Temple Run on an iPad and I'll eventually start rolling along pretty nicely. It even gets a little Heywardian sometimes, but nobody's ever offered to compensate me for taking the time.
So, while it's not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, the inherently combative nature of arbitration hearings could still affect Heyward's relationship with his team significantly.
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The Braves have essentially told him that he isn't worth an extra $300,000, and rather than accepting that and signing a one-year deal, Heyward has decided to state his case. It's probably more of a matter of principle at this point, but that's still quite a bit of money -- at least for Heyward it is.
Look at it it this way, for example:
Take the total amount of money you've made in the last four years.
Divide that by 4. Multiply that by 0.25.
That's what $300,000 means to Jason Heyward.
Now find a one dollar bill (if you can).
Eat it and wait a few hours.
That's what $300,000 means to the Atlanta Braves.
Okay, so maybe that's a little hyperbolic (and disgusting), but still -- that relatively small amount of money clearly means more to Heyward than it does to the team. Why wouldn't they just give him the little pat on the back he's asking for? This arbitration case won't be the difference between keeping him another season or not (like it might be for the Braves and Craig Kimbrel). This is chump change. The money doesn't matter to the team. Why go to battle with one of your best players?
Because they're probably going to win. That's why. They'll likely prove their point and place an arbitration signpost along the way for future players.
The arbitration panel typically sides with the team slightly more often than the player, but it's pretty close. However, in Heyward's case, it might not be. He's been injured (remember when that errant pitch broke his jaw?) and somewhat underwhelming in many of the stats that count the most in the arbitrator's evaluation process.
Sure, he can boast career 73 homers, an All-Star appearance, and a Gold Glove, but the Braves will counter with as much negative information as they can in order to sway the panel (It's not just the Braves, it's the nature of the system). They will probably start with the 50-plus games he missed last season, and cite his time on the disabled list in 2011 as well.
It's true that he's been injured a few times in his career, and that's obviously a legitimate concern, but is it enough to jeopardize his future in Atlanta? No, probably not. Is it enough to cost him $300,000? Could be.
The team is also likely to use his 2011 batting average as evidence against him. Batting average.
A stat that tells you more about the scorekeeper than the player.
Heyward hit .227 in 2011 due to a 40-point dip in batting average on balls in play. Most of his other numbers were in line with his career norms. Batting average, home runs, runs batted in ... none of them even come close to showing Heyward's historically impactful introduction to the league.
Since 1900, only 35 other players have posted 16 fWAR or more before turning 25. Heyward has a career wOBA of .349, and has failed to post a positive wRC+ figure only once -- the year he hit .227 his wRC+ was 96, and he was still good enough defensively to supply the Braves with 2 wins that year. In fact, his defense is so good that only one player in baseball -- Brendan Ryan -- has posted more defensive runs saved since 2010.
If B.J. Upton is worth $75 million, isn't Heyward worth an extra $300k?
The obvious answer is yes.
But the Braves aren't answering a question about Heyward's value. They're making a statement about how they intend to negotiate with players now and in the future. So the amount doesn't matter. It's not about saving money. It's about avoiding arbitration cases in the future -- an effort to "bring both parties to the table a little bit sooner," as fellow file-and-trial GM Alex Anthopoulos put it.
The idea is to avoid arbitration more often by setting an inflexible deadline for negotiations, but the Braves are taking their steadfastness a step further. In standing firm over $300k before the deadline, it looks like Atlanta is out to prove something this offseason.
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