Relief pitcher Peter Moylan and infielder Brooks Conrad became non-tendered free agents after not being offered contracts by the Braves, a move that doesn’t preclude returning to the team.
General manager Frank Wren said at last week’s Winter Meetings that the Braves could non-tender Moylan and re-sign him as a free agent later this winter if he continued to progress in recovery from late-September shoulder surgery.
“I was expecting the move,” Moylan said Tuesday. “Hoping we can work out something to stay a Brave.”
Moylan is scheduled to begin throwing in January and said his goal was to be ready to pitch at the beginning of the season.
The Braves offered contracts to all of their other remaining arbitration-eligible players — center fielder Michael Bourn, left fielder Martin Prado, starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens and reliever Eric O’Flaherty.
Major league teams had a midnight deadline to tender contracts to unsigned players who were under team control. Non-tendered players became free agents.
Moylan, 33, had arthroscopic surgery for rotator-cuff and labrum tears, and the Braves are unsure when he’ll be ready to pitch. Typical recovery for the surgery is about six months, which would be right at the beginning of the season.
The Aussie sidearmer made $2 million in 2011 and was limited to 13 appearances, missing most of the season while recovering from May back surgery followed by the shoulder issue that flared up just three weeks after he returned from the disabled list.
Moylan pitched in 80 or more games in three of the previous four seasons for the Braves, coming back strong in 2009 after missing most of ’08 recovering from ligament-transplant elbow surgery, aka “Tommy John” surgery.
If he’d been tendered a contract, he might have commanded a salary of around $2 million again in his third year of arbitration eligibility. In that scenario, the maximum amount that his salary could have been cut would be 20 percent, to $1.6 million.
The Braves did not want to make that level of commitment without being more certain of his recovery.
Conrad was an unusual case of a player non-tendered despite being short of arbitration eligibility. The utility infielder and pinch-hitter made $427,500 in 2011 and could have been brought back at the major league minimum salary, which is $480,000 for 2012.
The Braves didn’t see Conrad as a good fit any longer, primarily because they needed someone in his utility role who could play well at shortstop. That’s not a strong position for Conrad.
Conrad hit .223 with a .325 on-base percentage, nine extra-base hits (four homers) and 13 RBIs in 103 at-bats in 2011, down from 20 extra-base hits (eight homers) and 33 RBIs in 156 at-bats in 2010.
As a pinch-hitter, he was 13-for-62 (.210) with 29 strikeouts in 2011. He had the most pinch-hit appearances among the Braves, whose pinch-hitters were 15th in the NL in average (.175) and 16th (last) in OBP (.239).
The Braves told Conrad to explore the free-agent market, and that they’d be open to discussing a minor-league contract later if he’s interested.
Bourn made $4.4 million in 2011 and is projected to make about $7 million in 2012, his third arbitration-eligible year. The three-time National League stolen base leader can become a free agent after the season.
Wren has said the Braves are interested in discussing an extension for Bourn, who hit .278 with 22 steals in 53 games after coming from Houston in a July 31 trade. Bourn, a 2009 All-Star and client of agent Scott Boras, hit a combined .291 with 61 steals and a .349 OBP.
The Braves know that Boras typically takes his players to free agency, unless a team makes an overwhelming contract-extension offer or a client is adamant about staying put. The Braves have sought a young center fielder in trade discussions this winter, in case Bourn isn’t retained beyond 2012.
Prado and Jurrjens have had trade rumors swirl around them for two months. The Braves insist they don’t need to move either for payroll reasons and would only make a deal if it improved the team.
After making $3.1 million in a 2011 season interrupted by a lower-leg staph infection, Prado might command about $4.5 million in his second year of arbitration.
Jurrjens was a 2011 All-Star, then was sidelined in September for the second year in a row by a right-knee injury. He made $3.25 million in his first season of arbitration eligibility and could see a raise to about $5 million for 2012.
Left-hander O’Flaherty is part of a formidable bullpen trio with closer Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. He could get a substantial raise in his second year of arbitration, from $895,000 last season to perhaps $2.5 million.
Because Moylan was non-tendered, the Braves — or any team — could negotiate a new salary with him as a free agent. At the November general managers meetings in Milwaukee, Wren spoke with Moylan’s representative, Adam Katz, about the possibility of signing him later this winter after seeing how rehab goes.
Katz said Monday that he had recently been given a positive update from the doctor who did Moylan’s shoulder surgery, Braves orthopedist Xavier Duralde.
Moylan had a 3.24 ERA with 10 strikeouts and three walks in 8-1/3 innings in 2011. He had a bulging disc repaired May 17, his third back surgery in a decade.
He returned Sept. 3 and made six appearances before the shoulder forced him out again. Moylan was diagnosed with an incomplete tear of the rotator cuff in 2010, but had been able to manage the condition with cortisone injections.
Moylan was a workhorse before and after his previous major arm injury. He had elbow surgery one month into the 2008 season and missed the rest of the year, after posting a 1.80 ERA in 80 games as a 28-year-old rookie in 2007.
After returning to post a 2.84 ERA in a franchise-record 87 appearances in 2009, he finished the 2010 season with a 2.97 ERA in 85 appearances.
He’s been an improbable success story in the major leagues. He was out of American professional baseball for eight years and working as a pharmaceutical salesman at home in Australia, playing for a club team on weekends, when he was invited to pitch for his country in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
When he switched to a sidearm delivery in deference to a previous back injury, Moylan almost immediately gained 10 miles per hour on his fastball, drawing notice in Australia, then from scouts during the World Baseball Classic in 2006.
The Braves signed him to a minor-league contract that March, and he made his major league debut a month later.
The heavily-tattooed pitcher, with his gregarious personality and dry humor, has become one of the most popular Braves among teammates and fans.