Harris is Braves' only non-tender
Teixeira among group of players eligible to have cases heard
ATLANTA -- Mark Teixeira will be signing at least one lucrative contract with the Braves. But this won't be the deal desired by the many who are hoping the switch-hitting first baseman remains in Atlanta past the 2008 season.
Teixeira was among the six arbitration-eligible players who were tendered contracts by the Braves before Wednesday's deadline. Willie Harris was the club's only arbitration-eligible player who wasn't tendered a contract. Like Teixeira, Matt Diaz, Omar Infante, Rafael Soriano, Tyler Yates and Mike Gonzalez were also tendered contracts and now have the opportunity to have their 2008 salaries determined via arbitration. But there's a good chance that some, if not all, of these players will reach an agreement before their arbitration hearings begin.
Harris, who was designated him for assignment last week, is now a free agent and will likely seek employment elsewhere. The Nationals are believed to have some interest in the veteran utility man, who hit .204 in his final 71 games this season. There's also a chance the Braves could re-sign him to a Minor League deal and bring him to camp as a non-roster invitee.
The Braves have been traditionally successful with their attempt to avoid arbitration hearings. But they know it might be difficult to negotiate Teixeira's salary before the 27-year-old first baseman's agent, Scott Boras, has a chance to plead his client's case before an assigned arbiter.
Teixeira is entering his final arbitration-eligible season with credentials that will likely provide a sizeable increase to the $9 million salary that he earned last season, when he hit .306 with 30 homers and 105 RBIs in 132 combined games with the Braves and Rangers.
In the 52 games he played after being acquired by the Braves at the trade deadline, Teixeira collected 56 RBIs and hit 17 homers.
While the Braves will explore the possibility of keeping Teixeira in Atlanta past the 2008 season, they know they are facing tough odds. The veteran first baseman's hometown Orioles will likely have the financial resources to make a serious bid for his services. In addition, it looks like the Yankees will have a desire to provide him a mega contract that might lure him to become their first baseman for a better part of the next decade.
"We will have negotiations with Mark this winter, and we'll just see where they lead," Braves general manager Frank Wren said recently.
For now, the Braves have at least put themselves in position to enjoy Teixeira's production for at least one more season. Such is also the case of Diaz, Infante, Soriano, Yates and Gonzalez, who all were expected to be tendered contracts.
Diaz, who has combined to hit .333 over the past two years with the Braves, has gained arbitration-eligible status as a Super Two player. This means that his service time ranked among the top 17 percent of players who have at least two years of service and less than three.
Infante, the versatile utility player who was acquired from the Cubs last week, was deemed a Super Two player last year and avoided arbitration when he signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Tigers. Because he gained arbitration-eligible status before completing three full seasons in the Majors, the Braves will be able to control his contract through the 2010 season.
Soriano, who avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $1.2 million salary last offseason, enters the 2008 season as the club's projected closer. Despite some midseason struggles, the 28-year-old right-hander posted a 3.00 ERA in a career-high 72 innings and limited opponents to a .181 batting average.
The Braves are hopeful Gonzalez will further strengthen the back end of their bullpen when he makes an expected return in June. The left-handed reliever made $2.35 million while missing most of last season after undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery in late May.
Yates, who is entering his first arbitration-eligible season, is also projected to play a significant bullpen role this upcoming season. In a career-high 75 appearances last season, the 30-year-old right-hander posted a 5.18 ERA and collected 69 strikeouts.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.