Will the Braves be able to secure Martin Prado for a few more seasons?
-- Brad W., Louisville, Ky.
The Braves explored the possibility of locking Prado up with a multiyear deal during the early months of this offseason. But all indications are that they did not provide Prado the kind of offer he needed to waive the right he has earned to gauge his value on the free-agent market next winter.
Quite honestly, I'm not sure either party could have accurately set Prado's financial value right now. During the 2012 season, he hit .301 with a .796 OPS, 10 home runs and a career-high 17 stolen bases -- he entered the season with 13 steals in 28 career attempts. If he does something comparable and continues to be versatile with the glove, the free-agent market will reward him.
If Prado spends this upcoming season struggling like he did while hitting .260 with 13 homers and a .687 OPS in 2011, he might wish that he had ignored the temptation to become a free agent. This is just another product of an economic system that benefits and occasionally frustrates players.
Though the Braves ($7.05 million) and Prado ($6.65 million) were just $400,000 apart on the salary figures exchanged on Friday, it appears Atlanta is destined for its first arbitration hearing since 2001. Some of you have asked how the club could allow a small separation lead to going to a hearing with a selfless player like Prado, who is one of the clubhouse's most beloved figures.
Quite simply, it's part of the arbitration process. Coming off his strong 2010 season, Prado gained a $3.1 million salary as a first-year arbitration-eligible player. When he struggled one year later, arbitration raised his salary to $4.75 million.
Now, depending on the result of the arbitration hearing, he will make either $6.65 million or $7.05 million during his final arbitration-eligible season. Either way, I don't think he's going to be upset after going to a hearing in which he might hear the Braves complain about the fact that he does not have quite enough power, speed or whatever to justify a $7 million salary.
You can view it as a ticky-tack decision that could lead Prado to sign elsewhere next year. Or you could be more realistic and realize the most attractive free-agent offer will determine where Prado plays beyond this year.
The Braves nearly went to a hearing with Jeff Francoeur in 2009 and likely would have if they were not concerned about how it would have affected him mentally. Consequently, they paid him more than desired and still had to trade him before the end of July.
Since then, the Braves have made it a policy to go to a hearing if salary figures are exchanged. Unfortunately for Prado, he happened to be the first player this affected. But this should not be viewed as something that will significantly affect his long-term future in Atlanta.
What do you think will happen to Michael Bourn?
-- Charles B., Greenville, S.C.
Over the past few weeks, I've felt the odds of Bourn returning to Atlanta rested below five percent. My belief has been that there is no way his proud agent, Scott Boras, would allow him to sign a one-year deal worth approximately $8-10 million with the same club that had provided a one-year, $13 million qualifying offer in November.
But with Spring Training just three weeks away, you have to at least wonder if it's time to set pride aside and just get a deal done. The Braves and Bourn remain a great fit as long as it is a short-term deal. The Braves need a leadoff hitter and Bourn needs a job to potentially put himself back in the same position he expected to be as he hit this year's free-agent market, with the hopes of landing a deal similar to B.J. Upton's five-year, $75.25 million contract.
If the Braves offered Bourn a one-year deal, they would likely have to promise him they would not make him a qualifying offer at the end of this upcoming season. The offer has weakened his position with clubs that are reluctant about having to give up a Draft choice.
For now, Bourn's potential return to Atlanta remains nothing more than speculation. But as Spring Training nears, it still at least remains a possibility.
With the way Tim Hudson bounced back from surgery in 2012, is there reason to hope the Braves will sign him past '13? Hudson is a great pitcher and I hope he stays in Atlanta for several more years.
-- Denise D., Duluth, Ga.
Minus a tough 2006 season, Hudson has been the kind of frontline starter the Braves envisioned when they acquired him from the A's eight years ago. Over his past six seasons, he has gone 78-44 with a 3.24 ERA. Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee and Matt Cain are the only other pitchers who have posted a better ERA while making at least 150 starts in that span.
Now that Chipper Jones is gone, Hudson will likely take on an even greater leadership role within the clubhouse. And when evaluating charitable contributions to the community, it is pretty obvious that Hudson and his wife, Kim, are in a league of their own.
Other than the fact that he is a 37-year-old pitcher (he'll turn 38 in July) just one year removed from back surgery, there are plenty of reasons to think the Braves will give Hudson a chance to finish his career in Atlanta. But before making a multiyear commitment, they will take the responsible route of making sure he stays healthy this year.
What will Jones be doing this season? Will he have a place in the Braves organization?
-- Bruce W., Springfield, Ore.
Jones will make a few appearances at Spring Training to play golf and spend time with his many teammates. Throughout the regular season, I'm sure we'll see him from time to time at Turner Field and maybe a few other visiting ballparks. He'll spend some time with his kids as they grow and get involved in sports. But he'll never stray too far away from the game and the Braves.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.