Last night, I discussed the Braves overflowing cupboard of players that seem to fit the mold of early extension candidates, looking at whether GM Frank Wren would join the league-wide trend of locking up young talent. In a nutshell, the team seems to have at least eleven players that arguably could warrant extension consideration in the immediate future: Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters, Julio Teheran, and Justin Upton. (I mention Upton last because, though he is just 26, he has already signed one extension and thus is not looking for his first big payday. All of the other players still have at least two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.) Inspired by the MLBTR commenters that endeavored to sort through this group, I thought it would be interesting to ask our readers to weigh in on the situation in its full context.
As noted in my earlier piece, Atlanta does have room in its future payroll to fit some extensions. Then again, it also has over $40MM committed to just three players over the next two years, and boasts an annual payroll that has tended to land right around $90MM at opening day. The list of players we've compiled is good enough that you could probably just add average players around it and still have a winner. Without demeaning the immense contributions this year of part-timers like Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis, to say nothing of Brian McCann and a solid all-around pitching staff, that is very nearly what the Braves have done. But if the full core cannot be maintained for the long-term, with big arbitration raises ramping up beginning next year, then how should the team prioritize amongst its youngsters?
To keep things simple, we'll allow for three options on each of the youngsters noted above: First, go year to year for the time being, potentially risking losing the player through free agency and paying full boat (arbitration-wise, anyway) for their services. Second, explore a long-term extension that delivers cost-certainty and perhaps cost savings, while adding risk and reducing payroll flexibility. (Of course, the length and value will vary widely by player, but we will have to save that discussion for another day.) Third, shop the player on the open market, looking to return even younger, cheaper, close-to-the-bigs talent.
It is important, of course, to consider the internal options that the team's always-productive minor league system has in the pipeline. The Braves' top prospects include a bevy of young pitchers, some of whom -- in particular, J.R. Graham, Sean Gilmartin, and Cody Martin -- could soon be ready to contribute at the MLB level along with rookie Alex Wood. There are a few top position players in the upper minors as well, led by catcher Christian Bethancourt, outfielder Todd Cunningham, third baseman Edward Salcedo, and second baseman Tommy La Stella.
Here is a breakdown of the contract situations of the eleven players we will consider:
Second-Year Arb-Eligible (2013 salary; notes)
- Outfielder Jason Heyward ($3.65MM)
- Starter Kris Medlen ($2.6MM)
- Reliever Jonny Venters ($1.62MM; missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery)
- Third baseman Chris Johnson ($2.88MM; qualified for arbitration as Super Two)
First-Year Arb-Eligible (notes)
- Closer Craig Kimbrel
- First baseman Freddie Freeman
- Starter Brandon Beachy
- Starter Mike Minor (will have 2.138 years of service and likely be arb-eligible as Super Two)
- Shortstop Andrelton Simmons (will have 1.125 years of service)
- Starter Julio Teheran (will have 1.062 years of service)
Under Contract Through 2015 (salary)
- Outfielder Justin Upton (owed $14.25MM in 2014 and $14.5MM in 2015)
Click here to view the results as they come in.