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Braves, Francoeur differ on deal for '09

Braves, Francoeur differ on '09 deal

ATLANTA -- Coming off the most disappointing season of his young career, Jeff Francoeur knows that he won't be making as much money as he'd previously envisioned during his first arbitration-eligible season.

But like Kelly Johnson and Casey Kotchman, Francoeur feels that he deserves more than the Braves are currently offering.

When every Major League team exchanged salary figures with its unsigned arbitration-eligible players on Tuesday, Francoeur, Johnson and Kotchman gained a better sense of what they'll likely make during the upcoming season. This trio stands as the only Braves players affected by this process.

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Coming off a season during which he hit .239 with 11 homers and a .359 slugging percentage, Francoeur is asking the Braves for $3.95 million. The club has offered the 25-year-old right fielder a salary of $2.8 million.

The $1.15 million difference with Francoeur is the greatest the Braves have with any of their unsigned arbitration-eligible players. Their $2.35 million offer to Johnson is $950,000 less than the second baseman's request for $3.3 million.

After collecting 100 RBIs for a second successive season and winning his first National League Gold Glove Award in 2007, Francoeur entered the 2008 season with plenty of optimism. But his prolonged early struggles reached a point where the Braves decided to send him to the Minors for a weekend in early July.

Entering the 2008 season, Francoeur's career statistics included a .280 batting average, 62 homers and a .463 slugging percentage. Over the past two seasons, he has hit .267 with 30 homers, 176 RBIs and a .403 slugging percentage.

Johnson is coming off a season in which he produced career-high totals in batting average (.287), games (150), doubles (39), RBIs (69) and stolen bases (11). His 22-game hitting streak in September was the longest recorded in the NL during the 2008 season.

Kotchman, who combined to hit .272 with 14 homers and a .410 slugging percentage with the Braves and Angels last year, is requesting $3.25 million, which is $775,000 more than the $2.475 million offer made by Atlanta.

While avoiding arbitration with the Angels last year, Kotchman gained a $1.45 million salary for the 2008 season.

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The $460,000 salary Francoeur drew in 2008 was slightly higher than the $430,000 figure provided to Johnson. This is the first time these two players have been eligible for arbitration.

The Braves will attempt to sign Francoeur, Johnson and Kotchman before reaching a point where an arbitrator would need to assign their respective 2009 salaries. Because they don't want to be highly critical of players in a public forum, most teams attempt to do whatever they can to avoid arbitration hearings.

Arbitration hearings for all eligible Major League players are scheduled from Feb. 1-21. Agreements can be reached up until the point that an arbitrator provides his ruling.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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