After the World Series ends, baseball’s hot-stove league begins. The Braves stoked theirs Tuesday, exercising options on two players and declining two others.
The team picked up $2.5 million options for 2011 on shortstop Alex Gonzalez and versatile All-Star Omar Infante, and bought out options for reliever Kyle Farnsworth and outfielder Rick Ankiel at $500,000 apiece.
The Braves also re-signed arbitration-eligible reliever Scott Proctor and reinstated pitcher Jairo Asencio to the 40-man roster. Asencio missed the 2010 season after being detained in the Dominican Republic and found to have used a false name, Luis Valdez.
Three Braves were among 142 who became free agents after the World Series ended: first basemen Derrek Lee and Troy Glaus and infielder/outfielder Eric Hinske. The team will likely consider re-signing only Hinske from that trio.
With rookie Freddie Freeman projected as their starting first baseman, the Braves might pursue a right-handed hitter as his backup. General manager Frank Wren said that doesn’t rule out the possibility of Hinske returning.
Hinske, on a one-year, $1 million contract in 2010, hit .256 with 33 extra-base hits (11 home runs) and 50 RBIs in 281 at-bats. He hit three pinch-hit homers in the regular season and one more in the division series against San Francisco.
“There still can be a role on the club for him, even though he’s left-handed,” Wren said of the veteran, whom Braves players credited for strengthening team chemistry. “There are still areas where we can use him. We think he was a valuable part of the team last year and we still have interest in him.”
Under a new rule, an exclusive negotiating period between free agents and their current teams lasts only five days after the World Series ends; it lasted 15 days in the past. Free agents can sign with any team after that period.
Teams have until Nov. 23 to offer arbitration to free agents to preserve draft-pick compensation for Type A and Type B players who sign with other teams.
Hinske and Glaus aren’t classified, but Lee is a Type A who would bring two draft picks if the Braves offer arbitration and he signs elsewhere.
However, the Braves probably can’t afford to risk offering him arbitration, because if Lee accepted he could command $10 million or more in an arbitration-set salary after making $13 million in 2010.
Years ago, the Braves had a similar high-stakes gamble backfire when Greg Maddux surprisingly accepted arbitration, forcing the team to hastily trade Kevin Millwood to clear payroll.
And just last winter, the Braves offered closer Rafael Soriano arbitration with no intention of re-signing him. When he accepted during the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, the Braves traded him for reliever Jesse Chavez before leaving Indiana.
Trading a 35-year-old Lee, with a projected eight-figure salary and coming off a thumb injury that reduced his power, could be a far more difficult task.
The Braves already released reliever Takashi Saito (as stipulated by his contract) and outfielder Melky Cabrera, which made them free agents.
Standout closer Billy Wagner had a 2011 option that vested, but he retired after the season and is not considering changing his mind.
Farnsworth’s option was for $5.25 million option and Ankiel’s was $6 million. The buyouts were covered by $1 million the Braves received for that purpose from the Kansas City Royals in the July 31 trade for the duo.
Despite losing Saito, Wagner and Farnsworth, the Braves’ bullpen should remain strong with incumbents Peter Moylan, left-handers Eric O’Flaherty and Mike Dunn, and the sensational young duo of Craig Kimbrel and lefty Jonny Venters as leading candidates for closer and setup man in some combination.
Proctor has missed most of two seasons after elbow surgeries. He hoped to return last April but spent most of the season in the minors when his recovery stalled. Proctor pitched in six late-season games for Atlanta.
The right-hander signed a one-year deal believed to be worth about $750,000 plus incentives, leaving the Braves with five unsigned arbitration-eligibles: pitchers Jair Jurrjens, Moylan and O’Flahery; infielder Martin Prado, and outfielder Matt Diaz.