After signing reliever Eric O’Flaherty late Monday, then center fielder Michael Bourn and pitcher Jair Jurrjens on Tuesday, the Braves successfully avoided any arbitration hearings and tidied up the roster and payroll a month before spring training.
The Braves also agreed to terms later Tuesday with popular veteran reliever Peter Moylan, who’s coming off shoulder surgery and hopes to be ready by the early season. He got a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training and $1 million on a prorated basis for time in the majors, plus incentives.
Braves general manager Frank Wren indicated there was a good chance no bigger moves would be made before pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 19 at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The Braves haven’t made any big acquisitions since losing 20 of their final 30 games and missing a playoff berth on the final day of the season, but Wren believes the team will be improved if some players bounce back after disappointing seasons.
“We’ve felt all winter long that we have a foundation of a very good team,” he said, “and I think this is likely the team we not only got to spring training with but that we break camp with. We’ve talked about it before, how we have a good team; if it performs to its capability we’ll be in the running and we can make adjustments as we go along.”
Significant raises for the four arbitration-eligible players — Martin Prado was the first to sign on Friday – raised the Braves’ salary commitments to nearly $90 million for 2012, a few million below 2011 payroll.
The Braves have said they would keep the payroll the same or slightly higher, and Wren said they want to retain some payroll flexibility to make potential moves during the upcoming season. The Braves have not divulged a specific payroll limit.
“We plan to keep some margin to allow us to make some additions during the season, at the break,” Wren said. “We feel like we’re right where we want to be at this time of the year. It gives us flexibility to make moves.”
O’Flaherty, a left-handed setup man who led the majors with a 0.98 relief ERA, got a 178-percent raise to $2.49 million in his second year of arbitration.
He closed the season with 20 consecutive scoreless appearances and became the first reliever in major league history to post a sub-1.00 ERA in 70 or more appearances. O’Flaherty had 78 appearances, tied for fifth-most in the majors.
Jair Jurrjens, in his second arbitration year, got a $5.5 million deal for ‘12, which also includes potential incentives of $25,000 each for 175 innings, 180, 190, 200, 210, and 215. He made $3.25 million in 2011, a season cut short by a right knee injury for the second year in a row.
Jurrjens went 13-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 23 starts, none after August. In four-plus seasons with Detroit and Atlanta, Jurrjens is 16-13 with a 4.25 ERA in 41 starts in August-September, and 34-20 with a 2.96 ERA in his other 74 starts.
Bourn, in his third and final year of arbitration, got a $2.45 million raise to $6.845 million. He hit .294 with a .349 on-base percentage and majors-leading 61 stolen bases for Houston and Atlanta.
After hitting .311 with a .368 OBP in his last 93 games with Houston through July 30, Bourn was traded and hit .278 with a .321 OBP in 53 games for Atlanta. He hit .254 with a .295 OBP in 30 games for the skidding Braves after Aug. 25, though he did steal 14 bases in that stretch.
Bourn is eligible for free agency after the 2012 season and could be difficult to sign to a long-term extension. His agent is Scott Boras, who advises most clients to explore free agency when they get the right, rather than take a discount to stay with their current team before seeing what else is out there.
Prado got a raise from $3.1 million to $4.75 million in his second year of arbitration, despite slipping to a .260 average and .687 OPS in 2010. He hit .307 with an .809 OPS as an All-Star second baseman in 2010.
After missing 5-1/2 weeks last summer following staph-infection surgery on his right calf, Prado’s power and speed were diminished. He homered and drove in two runs in his first game back July 15, then hit .244 with two homers in 238 at-bats over his next 55 games.
Moylan, a free agent after being non-tendered by the Braves last month, was offered a deal after the team was sure of its payroll situation and confident that his recovery was progressing. He had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in September.
The 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 problem that flared up three weeks after he came back 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 “Tommy John” elbow surgery. During the 2009-2010 seasons he recorded a 2.90 ERA with 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 136 2/3 innings.
The Braves listened to trade offers for both Prado and Jurrjens this winter, but haven’t been intrigued enough to part with either. Prado is difficult for them to replace because he plays left field but also moves to third base whenever Chipper Jones, 40 in April, is out of the lineup.
Jurrjens was an All-Star in 2011, but other teams have concerns about the knee after he missed the important September stretch for the second year in a row. Jurrjens plans to pitch with a protective brace at the beginning of the 2012 season, and potential suitors will surely be watching.
Wren said it’s possible that veteran pitcher Tim Hudson won’t be fully recovered from back surgery before Opening Day, or the Braves might be cautious with him in spring training after observing how he handles early workouts. That’s made trading Jurrjens unappealing for anything less than a big return.
With Derek Lowe gone – the Braves are paying $10 million of his $15 million salary to pitch for Cleveland – the Braves will have a young rotation after Hudson. Jurrjens is easily the most experienced from among Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and rookie candidates Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.