KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Jeff Francoeur had not even bothered to pack his bags, holding out hope that he wouldn’t have to fly across the country to hear his own team talk about his flaws.
His faith was rewarded.
The outfielder agreed to a one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves worth $3,375,000, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing that could have turned ugly.
"I’m so glad to have this done with," Francoeur said before Thursday’s workout, a session he would have missed if he had needed to fly to Arizona for today’s scheduled hearing. "Everyone did a great job of getting this done with so I don’t have to go out there. I’m happy, excited and looking forward to this season."
The two sides came to an agreement shortly before midnight Wednesday at the midway point between their two proposals — $2.8 million by the Braves, $3.95 million by Francoeur. The deal also includes a $25,000 bonus if he reaches 685 plate appearances.
The 25-year-old Francoeur is hoping to bounce back from a dismal season in which he batted .239 with 11 homers and 71 RBIs. He was even sent briefly to the minors in hopes to working through his problems.
Despite his poor numbers, Francoeur got a big raise over last season’s salary of $460,000. Without a settlement, he would have been forced to sit through a hearing where the Braves would have detailed all the reasons he didn’t deserve the salary he was asking for — an unappealing prospect that could have widened a schism with team management.
"Nobody wants to go through that," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "You don’t want to mess with that if you don’t have to."
Francoeur had previously turned down a multiyear contract offer, similar to the one accepted by All-Star catcher Brian McCann, and the outfielder was clearly upset when the Braves briefly sent him to Double-A Mississippi in the midst of last season’s struggles.
After agreeing on a contract, Francoeur sounded much more conciliatory toward management.
"I know they are on the same side I am," he said. "I know sometimes it doesn’t seem like it when you’re going through arbitration, but they want me to have a big year and help the team win. Absolutely they believe in me. They believe in my work ethic and what I can do. I’m glad to have that past me."
General manager Frank Wren had equally kind words for Francoeur.
"He’s done all the right things to get himself in position to perform like he has in the past," Wren said.
A day earlier, the Braves avoided arbitration with second baseman Kelly Johnson, agreeing to a $2,825,000 contract that includes a $50,000 bonus for 620 plate appearances and $25,000 more for 670.
Following the routine that worked so well in Japan, Kenshin Kawakami has been taking a slow approach in spring training.
With each session on the mound, the right-hander throws a little harder and mixes in a wider variety of pitches.
He finally caught manager Bobby Cox’s eye on Thursday.
"He really aired it out," Cox said. "He had a good curveball, and the pattern of his location was excellent."
Kawakami, the first Japanese player in team history, expects to face hitters for the first time on Saturday.
Another newcomer, Derek Lowe, has been one of the standouts in the early days of the camp. The Braves are counting on the big right-hander to be their ace after giving him a $60 million, four-year contract.
"Every time out, it’s like clockwork," Cox said. "The sinker, the breaking stuff, the location. He’s been very good."
The Braves had to cut their workout a little short as heavy storms moved through central Florida. But they took the field about 15 minutes early, and Cox said they got in all their required work during a session that lasted a little over two hours. ... Prized prospect Tommy Hanson took his regular turn on the mound, two days after tearing a fingernail.