Guerry Clegg commentary: Bickering over Prado's salary makes no sense

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 20, 2013 

The Federal tax code. The NCAA Manual. The fascination with Honey Boo-Boo.

There are some things I'll just never get.

Add baseball economics to the list.

Take the Atlanta Braves and Martin Prado.

Prado may not be the Braves' best position player. Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton have more raw skills. Dan Uggla has more power. Andrelton Simmons is uncommonly smooth. But Prado is, quite possibly, the Braves' most valuable player.

Last week, the Braves reached agreements with five players who had filed for arbitration. Heyward ($3.65 million), and pitchers Kris Medlen ($2.6 million), Eric O'Flaherty ($4.32 million), Jonny Venters ($1.625 million) and Cristhian Martinez ($749,750) all received raises to avoid the arbitration process, which always has the potential to get messy.

But the Braves and Prado could not reach an agreement and will go to arbitration, which can be as pleasant as divorce court. The Braves offered Prado $6.65 million, a nice raise over the $4.75 million he made last season. And that would be a reasonable offer if Prado's demand were off the charts. But they weren't. All Prado asked for was $7.05 million.

OK, perspective time. We know that compared to educators, public safety servants and our military -- people who perform much more important jobs for much less money -- there's no such thing as an underpaid major league baseball player. That's a societal issue and a whole different debate.

But within the realm of baseball economics, it's baffling that a team that would pay Derek Lowe $10 million just to leave town would quibble over $400,000 -- the price of a mop-up reliever or utility infielder -- for a guy who plays such a vital role.

Prado led the team with a .301 batting average. He also chipped in 10 home runs, 70 runs batted in -- despite usually not hitting in a run-producing spot in the order. He also stole 17 bases, a career high.

Statistically, Prado is solid. Intangibly, he is indispensible. Coming up through the minor leagues, Prado was always overlooked even though he always produced. When Marcus Giles' career derailed after the 2006 season, they converted outfielder Kelly Johnson into a second baseman. Just handed him the job and said, "You're our second baseman."

This, despite the fact that Prado had hit .315 and .298 the previous two seasons in the minor leagues -- and already was a second baseman, and a good one.

When Johnson fizzled two years later, Prado stepped in and hit .307 with 11 homers and 49 RBI. Just as important, he gave them defensive stability. Johnson made 38 errors in his 2½ seasons as the starter, including 10 errors in just 69 starts in '09. Prado made just four errors in 61 starts at second base. He also started 26 games at third base and 17 games at first.

Prado followed that with another solid year in 2010, hitting .307 again with a career-high 15 home runs. They finally found the second baseman they'd been looking for since Giles' career nose-dived.

Or so it would have seemed. Instead, they packaged the versatile and productive Omar Infante in a trade for Uggla and told Prado to make a new home in left field.

Even then, Prado continued to multi-task. In addition to starting 202 games in left field the last two seasons, Prado started 54 games at third base. He even filled in capably at shortstop when Simmons, Jack Wilson and Paul Yanish were injured, and Tyler Pastornicky struggled. When Uggla fell into yet another one of his funks, who was there to bail them out? Yes, Martin Prado, starting eight games at his former position.

Few players have such versatility. Those who do are merely adequate at multiple positions. Prado is more than adequate. He makes web-gem plays wherever they put him.

Now, at 29, Prado should be just hitting his prime. He should have another six or seven very good seasons left in him.

The Braves should up the ante considerably before Prado tests his value -- and their appreciation -- on the free agent market. Instead, they are willing to risk alienating him through arbitration.

All to save $400,000, or enough to give Jordan Schafer another look.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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