LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jason Heyward signed a one-year contract Tuesday that gave him the highest salary ever for a Braves player with only one year of service.
But at $496,500, it was still quite a bargain for an All-Star right fielder.
Heyward, the National League Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2010, was among 21 Braves signed to one-year deals on Tuesday. All had fewer than three years of service and were not eligible for arbitration, and many had no major league service.
Among the other notables who signed were left-handed reliever Jonny Venters, who had a 1.97 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 83 innings as a rookie in 2010; right-hander Kris Medlen, and infielder Brooks Conrad, one of the Braves’ best clutch hitters off the bench last season.
Heyward, 21, spent the entire season in the majors and hit .277 with 18 homers, 72 RBIs and a .393 on-base percentage that was one of the highest in history for a player so young.
Until players become eligible for arbitration, they have no leverage in contract talks, and teams usually award only modest raises. But exceptional players are sometimes signed to lucrative, long-term contract extensions before reaching arbitration, and no one would be surprised if the Braves approach Heyward with such an offer within the next year.
Venters signed for $429,500, and first baseman Freddie Freeman, who had a September callup, got the major-league minimum $414,000 salary. Most others on the list got the minimum or slightly above. The Braves did not announce salary figures.
The major league minimum salary was raised this year, from $400,000 in 2010.
Others who signed Tuesday included right-handers Jairo Asencio, Juan Abreu, Brandon Beachy, Erik Cordier, Randall Delgado, Cory Gearrin, Craig Kimbrel, Stephen Marek and Anthony Varvaro; lefties Lee Hyde, Mike Minor and Jose Ortegano; infielder Brandon Hicks, and outfielders Joe Mather, Jordan Schafer and Matt Young.
Most will receive the major-league minimum (or slightly above) on a prorated basis for time spent with the big-league Braves, and significantly less for time in the minor leagues in 2011.