Braves paying players to play elsewhere

June 16, 2012 

We all know there is a lot of money in baseball. Players are paid enormous amounts of money, and even mediocre players are usually set for life.

Perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a club is to pay a player who is no longer on the roster.

The Atlanta Braves might be the leader in the clubhouse for that category, and it goes back a few decades.

In November of 1979, then-Braves owner Ted Turner did something outrageous. He gave reliever Al Hrabosky a five-year contract. “The Mad Hungarian,” as Hrabosky was called, had been a pretty decent reliever for St. Louis and Kansas City. He was no Bruce Sutter, but Hrabosky was pretty good.

That didn’t work out too well. Hrabosky, known for going behind the mound before he pitched and slamming the ball in his glove in a rage, pitched in exactly 100 games for the Braves. Hrabosky had just seven saves, and he had an ERA of 3.51. The Braves released him in the middle of the 1982 season.

But Hrabosky’s contract called for payments to be spread out across 35 years. Turner reportedly promised Hrabosky that he would teach him all about television, but Hrabosky never appeared on a Braves telecast. He instead went back to St. Louis and is still on the Cardinals’ broadcast team to this day.

Then, a few years later, Turner did it again. He desperately wanted to sign a free agent. The Braves had been spurned by Dave Winfield, Don Sutton, Reggie Jackson and Rich Gossage through the years. So in December of 1984 Turner signed Sutter, who at that time was the best reliever in the game.

That was a six-year contract, worth a reported $4.8 million -- $800,000 per year. After having a 2.72 ERA in four years for St. Louis, Sutter had a 4.55 ERA for the Braves in 112 games. His shoulder was ruined by the time he got to Atlanta.

But his contract reportedly called for deferred payments that would pay Sutter $1.3 million a year for 30 years after the six-year deal was over.

I could not verify if the Braves are still paying Hrabosky and/or Sutter. That’s probably not something they would want to admit. My sources believe that money is somehow “off the books,” but there is no confirmation. If the reports were correct, Hrabosky would be paid through 2014 and Sutter through 2021.

Why couldn’t Hrabosky or Sutter have earned some of that money by helping out the Braves’ minor leaguers or something? Sutter is the only one who has anything to do with the Braves now, and that’s an occasional autograph signing session at Turner Field.

That brings us to this year’s roster. Atlanta’s payroll is right around $90 million, but players accounting for one-sixth of that amount are elsewhere.

Derek Lowe is getting two-thirds of his $15 million salary paid by the Braves this season. He’s 7-5 with Cleveland and has a 3.78 ERA in 13 starts.

Jair Jurrjens is making $5.5 million this season, but his 9.37 ERA in four starts to begin the year got him a ticket to Triple-A.

That’s $15.5 million; the five pitchers who are actually in Atlanta’s starting rotation right now are making a combined $10.9 million.

That hurts to have that high a percentage of the payroll not contributing. Now, if you’re the Yankees and it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter. But for a club ranked in the middle in baseball in payroll, having that much money tied up in players who aren’t even on the roster is a challenge.

Well, at least the Braves currently don’t have a pitcher in Double-A Mississippi making $6.67 million. That was last year, when Kenshin Kawakami was so bad he couldn’t even pitch in Triple-A.

The Braves will have approximately $27.6 million coming off the books after this year, and chances are a few others (Jurrjens) will be let go to make that amount surpass $30 million. Let’s hope the Braves buck history and that money will be well spent.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. E-mail Bill at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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