Atlanta Braves Rumors

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John Hart On The Evolution Of Extensions

Former Indians GM and current Braves senior advisor John Hart discussed the evolution of extensions, as well as Atlanta's recent run of locking down young talent, in a fantastic interview with Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus. The full piece is required reading for anyone interested in understanding this key aspect of the transactional side of the game. Here are some of the many highlights:

  • Hart spearheaded the now-widespread use of extensions while running a Cleveland club in the early-1990s that (like Atlanta currently) was loaded with young, impact ballplayers. Operating on a lower revenue, especially before the team opened Jacobs Field, the Indians started locking up players to avoid "run[ning] an entire class through arbitration" and to "demonstrate to our fan base that we were in this for the long haul." At the time, says Hart, his front office "sort of caught the industry by surprise" by locking up multiple players at attractive rates.
  • Now, it is somewhat more difficult to get a "steal," Hart said, but teams can still "get a discount for the guarantee." He explained: "You're not always going to be successful on every guy. There's going to be different incentives and different factors in play." Nevertheless, he says, young players with "interest in stability" are still willing to reach deals that buy out free agent years. "With every success story comes with five or six crash and burns," said Hart, "and the players are aware of that. If you present opportunities for these guys at a younger age, you are going to have a willing ear."
  • Though signing up lesser players carries "the risk of getting too locked down," Hart says that he expects to see increasing use of extensions for non-core players like back-end starters and relievers as teams continue to look for savings. Likewise, the increasing use of extensions by larger-market clubs, he opined, is merely a recognition that all organizations benefit from maintaining "a quality young core of players."
  • In Hart's experience, it is possible to limit the risk that a player will not deal well with having sudden financial security. "These guys … recognize that there's another bite out of the apple potentially for them," he said. "There's just also the self-pride, the peer pressure, if you will, to want to be as good as you can be. … [W]e sort of knew what we had and didn't expect too much else. But I never saw anybody crash and burn."
  • With regard to the current Braves club, Hart credited GM Frank Wren and president John Schuerholz both with accumulating the Braves' store of talent and with charting an extension strategy. In committing over $280MM in less than three weeks to extend Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran, and Andrelton Simmons — none of whom has over four years of MLB service — Atlanta went on a stunning run of securing talent. That effort was aided, in part, by its breadth. "I think that was a little bit of the mindset as to why these players wanted to sign here," he said. "I think Frank did a great job. His strategy was Freeman one, along with Heyward. I think Kimbrel, you read some of his quotes, it was like, 'This makes sense to me because I know who I'm going to be with. …'" After the front office saw Brian McCann and Tim Hudson walk for large paydays through free agency, said Hart, "I'm sure they looked up and said, 'Nuh-uh, not with this young core.'"
  • Hart said that Atlanta — like any other organization — had to operate within "the economics of that particular organization" and "their tolerance for risk." In Atlanta's situation, newly expected revenue streams played a major role, according to Hart:

"I think in looking at that dynamic, although the Braves wanted to do these things, that to do the numbers they did, there had to be some level of comfort that there was going to be a revenue stream to support what they're doing. The feeling here is that if we're going to make commitments, ultimately we are going to put revenue back into the club. … I think that's part of it, the ability to get that new stadium online, to have a potential spike in some of the television revenues. Obviously we're stuck with a deal that is well below the market, but they were able to do some other things with a portion of that."


Cardinals Among Several Clubs Talking With Aledmys Diaz

THURSDAY, 8:58pm: Add the A's to the list of teams with interest in Diaz, per the latest from Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Slusser writes that Oakland had interest in Diaz last year and has maintained that interest, with one official telling her, "We've gathered all the information we can." 
The A's don't plan on holding a tryout for Diaz, as the Cardinals did.

Slusser points out that the need for Oakland may not be as strong as it is for other clubs due to the fact that top prospect Addison Russell is a shortstop by trade, and current big league shortstop Jed Lowrie is one of the team's better hitters. Of course, Lowrie is eligible for free agency at season's end.

1:32pm: The Blue Jays worked out Diaz last week, reports Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, though he notes that there was no indication that the sides were approaching a deal. 

Though they may appear at first glance to be a potential landing spot, the Mets are not in on Diaz, reports MLB.com's Anthony DiComo via Twitter.

12:32pm: Diaz and fellow Cuban Odrisamer Despaigne (a right-handed pitcher) continue to make their way around Florida for various showcases, tweets Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. (They had previously appeared in Arizona for teams that hold their springs there.) The pair is expected to appear in front of the Yankees today, says Sanchez.

8:57am: Other teams participating in talks with Diaz include the Giants, Blue Jays, Yankees, Braves, Phillies, and Mariners, Strauss reports in a follow-up piece.

Torres indicated that his client would focus his decision on maximizing dollars and opportunity. "We know he's going to be in the major leagues," said Torres. "It's only a matter of time. His preference is shortstop, but he's played second and third and I'm sure would be comfortable playing whatever position is necessary."

WEDNESDAY: After a private workout in front of top Cardinals brass today, Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz is expected to receive an offer from St. Louis within 24 hours, reports Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Diaz, who is represented by Jaime Torres, has drawn wide interest around the league, but Strauss says that the Cardinals are believed to be among the four clubs that have shown the most interest.

Echoing an earlier report from MLBDailyDish.com's Chris Cotillo (via Twitter) that a signing could come in two or three days, Torres told Strauss that his client is "prepared to move very quickly" in reaching agreement. Diaz is eligible to receive formal offers starting today. Though he is awaiting authorization to play in full-squad spring outings, Diaz has been cleared to play in B games.

The 23-year-old worked out only at short for the Cards, though he has performed on both sides of the bag in front of other clubs. "He's a player we've had interest in for awhile and the next natural step in the process was to put him in front of our people in this setting," said GM John Mozeliak. Of course, the club has already made two significant additions to its infield, signing Jhonny Peralta and Mark Ellis to join a middle-infield mix that already included Kolten Wong and Pete Kozma.


Reactions To The Andrelton Simmons Extension

Back in September, MLBTR's Jeff Todd wondered whether or not the Braves would look to extend their young core, and the last three weeks have revealed the answer: a resounding yes. Earlier today, the Braves announced that they had agreed to a seven-year, $58MM contract extension with defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons. The extension marks the fourth extension of at least four years for the Braves in the past three weeks and the sixth multi-year deal they've signed. Counting the new contracts for Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Jason Heyward (two-year deal), the Braves have committed just over $280MM in salary to their young core. Here are some reactions to their latest long-term pact…

  • Dave Cameron of Fangraphs compares Simmons' extension in comparison to the arbitration paydays of several defensive-oriented players such as Elvis Andrus, Brett Gardner and Michael Bourn. Cameron notes that Simmons received roughly double what can be expected for a glove-first player based on their salaries. However, he also looks at Simmons' chances of becoming a Super Two player and the potential for offensive growth, noting that he's one season of strong numbers at the dish away from rocketing himself into another stratosphere alongside the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Buster Posey.
  • In a highly recommended subscription-only piece, Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus looks at the floor for Simmons over the life of his extension, noting that it's probably similar Adam Everett's late 20s, when he averaged better than two WAR per season. He also looks at Simmons' ceiling, noting that his BABIP indicates he was robbed of 19 hits last season. Simmons' walk rate and ISO compare favorably to a strong group of hitters, leading Miller to conclude that if Simmons hits, the extension is beyond a bargain for Atlanta.
  • General manager Frank Wren tells David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the extensions haven't altered 2014 payroll much, and the team still has flexibility to make in-season additions. He also notes that more young players will be extended, though not necessarily this year (Twitter links).
  • It's time to reassess the Braves' ownership, writes Dayn Perry of CBS Sports. Perry looks at the downward trend in payroll that took place after Liberty Media took control of the team in 2007, noting that since that time the team has had a below-average payroll. Perry points out the enormous benefit provided by the team's upcoming Cobb County stadium and adds: "The prevailing reality is that the Braves, coming off 96 wins and a division title, are well-poised for the future, and that's in part because the maligned Liberty Media is willing to underwrite all these high-ceiling young players and keep them in Atlanta."
  • ESPN's Jim Bowden calls the contract a "steal" for the Braves (ESPN Insider required), noting that they're paying Simmons for his excellent glovework before his bat has fully developed. Bowden feels that Simmons will blossom into a plus hitter as well, and that the offense will be pure surplus value, as his glove alone is worth the money.
  • Bowden's colleague Keith Law kicked off his weekly chat by praising the Simmons deal, noting that the price is justified even if Simmons never hits much. Law agrees that Simmons' low BABIP leaves room for some offensive improvement, though he's surprised that the Braves simply guaranteed Simmons' salary for his third pre-arb year as if he were a surefire Super Two player. (Other deals, such as Ryan Braun's, for example, have included escalator clauses that provide a larger salary if the player reaches Super Two status.)


Braves Extend Andrelton Simmons

The Braves have agreed to a seven-year extension with shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the club announced today via press release. The Relativity Sports client receives a $58MM guarantee.

Simmons

Simmons, 24, will now be under contract with Atlanta through the 2020 season. The deal covers all of his arb-eligible years and includes two seasons of free agent eligibility. With just 1.125 years of service heading into 2014, Simmons was a possible (but by no means certain) Super Two player for 2015.

Placing in the same service class as recent extension signees like Julio Teheran, Martin Perez, Jose Altuve, Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt and Madison Bumgarner, Simmons' guaranteed money tops them all. Indeed, Simmons now sets the high mark for all extensions of players with between one and two years of service, topping Ryan Braun's eight-year, $45MM deal from back in 2008.

Last year, his first as a regular, Simmons sported a .248/.296/.396 line in 658 plate appearances, with 17 home runs and 6 stolen bases. While his hitting stats do not jump off the page, Simmons' defensive reputation is nearly unmatched. Baseball-Reference credited him with a remarkable 5.4 dWAR, resulting in an overall value of 6.8 wins above replacement. While Fangraphs weighs his overall contribution at 4.7 WAR for 2013, his UZR/150 (23.9) and Defensive Runs Saved (41) paint a picture of a high-floor player. Simmons would increase his value significantly moving forward, of course, if he can retain his power and get on base at a stronger clip.

Simmons gets a $1MM signing bonus. He will make the following annual salaries: $1MM (2014), $3MM (2015), $6MM (2016), $8MM (2017), $11MM (2018), $13MM (2019), and $15MM (2020).

It has surely been a stunning last few weeks for a Braves organization that entered the offseason with a host of talented young players and questions about whether they could all be retained. Added to the recent extensions for Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, and Jason Heyward (the latter of which did not extend control), Atlanta has now committed just over $280MM to its existing roster in just over two weeks' time.

Though Atlanta reportedly suffers from one of the game's least favorable TV deals, it has signed on for a new ballpark (and surrounding development) deal that promises new revenue. Indeed, GM Frank Wren said recently that expected income from that new endeavor was critical in funding the team's extensions.

Samuel Whitmore tweeted last night that the Braves were set to agree to a seven-year deal with Simmons. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first tweeted the contract value. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported the annual breakdown via Twitter.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: Buxton, Heyward, Padres, Saunders

Byron Buxton holds the top position in Baseball America's 2014 ranking of the top 100 prospects in the sport.  It's no surprise that Buxton was ranked #1 given that the Twins outfielder was similarly ranked in BA's midseason top 100 last summer.  Red Sox infielder Xander Bogaerts, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (who qualifies for the list despite his long career in Japan) and Cubs shortstop Javier Baez round out the top five.

Here's some more from around baseball….

  • Baseball America's John Manuel picks out some of the best and worst rankings from the past 24 years of BA's Top 100 Prospects lists.
  • The Braves signed long-term extensions with several core players but only extended Jason Heyward through his two remaining arbitration years.  While some believe that this means Heyward's time in Atlanta is limited, MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby writes that "the expectation is that after next season, the Heyward deal can be expanded so that he, too, will be locked up at least through the first year in the new ballpark."  Such a deal would require extending Heyward through at least his first two free agent years, which could get very expensive for the Braves if Heyward finally breaks out into stardom, as many have predicted for the young outfielder.
  • Padres chairman Ron Fowler told reporters (including Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune) that the club is prepared to raise payroll even further beyond the current $87MM+ projection for 2014. 
  • In regards to negotiations with Chase Headley on a multiyear deal, Fowler said, “There has been dialogue and we will continue to have dialogue at the appropriate time through the appropriate sources.”  Headley recently hinted that not much progress was being made and that talks could be tabled until after the season.
  • According to a talent evaluator who has seen Joe Saunders throw, the veteran southpaw could be the "steal of February," the evaluator tells FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link).  Saunders posted a rough 5.26 ERA over 183 innings for the Mariners last season.  "No one saying he’s a star, but he’s a major-league pitcher," Rosenthal writes.
  • The Nationals' acquisition of Doug Fister from the Tigers is the best transaction of the 2014 offseason, as judged by Fangraphs' Dave Cameron.  The Fister trade headlines Cameron's list of the winter's top 10 moves.
  • Though Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts denied that his club's profits were going anywhere but back into the team, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times wonders why the Cubs' revenues haven't been reflected in the Major League payroll.
  • NC State left-hander Carlos Rodon stands alone in his own tier atop ESPN's Keith Law's four-tier breakdown of the 2014 draft's top prospects (Insider subscription required).

Braves Extend Frank Wren, Fredi Gonzalez

The Braves have extended the contracts of general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez, team president John Schuerholz announced to reporters, including David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). Both had been entering the final years of their contract. Terms of the extensions were not disclosed.

The 55-year-old Wren has been the Braves' GM since taking over for Schuerholz following the 2007 season. In his time as the team's GM, Wren has pulled off numerous high-profile trades, including deals that landed Justin Upton and Chris Johnson from the Diamondbacks, Michael Bourn from the Astros and Dan Uggla from the division-rival Marlins. This offseason, Wren and his staff have hammered out long-term contracts for Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel while also inking Jason Heyward to a two-year deal that locks in his arbitration salaries. As is the case with most GMs, he's made some moves that haven't panned out, such as Uggla's five-year extension and B.J. Upton's five-year, $75.25MM free agent contract (of course, Upton still has four years to change that perception). A full list of Wren's moves as GM of the team can be seen in MLBTR's Transaction Tracker.

Gonzalez, 50, took over for legendary skipper Bobby Cox (who is now in the Hall of Fame) following the 2010 campaign. Previously the manager of the Marlins, Gonzalez came to Atlanta with four seasons of big league managerial experience. With the Braves, he's led the team to a 279-207 record in three seasons, finishing fourth in NL Manager of the Year voting in 2012 and third in 2013. Overall, Gonzalez has a 555-486 record in seven seasons as a Major League manager.


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Extension Notes: Bailey, Masterson, Samardzija, Segura, Simmons, Sandoval, Belt

Homer Bailey and the Reds were said earlier today to be close to a new deal, but nothing had materialized as of this evening. In the latest update, MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports that details are still being worked out. GM Walt Jocketty echoed his star hurler's comments, saying that progress had been made. "There are still some outstanding issues," said Jocketty. "Hopefully they get resolved in the next 24 hours or else people are going to have to suit it up and go east." Jocketty was referring, of course, to donning not baseball uniforms but rather the business attire necessary for an arbitration hearing. "It's a lot of little things," Jocketty continued. "The structure of the contract, how it's paid and things like that."

Here's a look at some other potential extension situations shaping up around baseball …

  • Though the threat of an arbitration hearing has been avoided between Justin Masterson and the Indians, those parties could be operating on something of a deadline of their own. Masterson, a comparable pitcher to Bailey in many ways, is also entering his final season of arb-eligibility before hitting the open market. Though Masterson has said he'd be willing to continue discussions into the season, club GM Chris Antonetti says that he would rather keep talks to the spring, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
  • Another power pitcher, Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs, currently stands to qualify for free agency after 2015. As ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers reported today, team president Theo Epstein still hopes a deal can be worked out. On the other hand, his comments echoed some of the sentiment recently expressed by Samardzija, who indicated that the sides had reached something of a stalemate in negotiations. "Sometimes there is going to be a natural gap where a player values himself for what he can do and the team has to factor in a little bit more what he has done," Epstein explained. "It doesn't mean we're tremendously far apart, but if you are apart you kind of table it for another day and we'll see what happens."
  • The Brewers previously explored extension talks with young shortstop Jean Segura, but those discussions did not lead anywhere. The club remains interested, but as MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports, nothing has occurred in the interim. "We're always open to [extension talks]," said GM Doug Melvin. "We've locked up some, some we didn't. We didn't get Prince [Fielder]. We offered him a deal earlier on to buy into free agency, but it just depends what players want. Not a lot of them want long-term deals that will take away free agency, and we like to get deals that have at least a year of free agency if we can."
  • Another promising young shortstop, the Braves' Andrelton Simmons, has watched as three youthful teammates inked long-term deals in recent deays. As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes (link behind paywall), Simmons is keeping his eye on the field but would be interested in a new contract. "I'm just focused on playing," said Simmons. "If it happens, great. I love Atlanta. So hopefully something gets done. But you never know." As O'Brien points out, uncertainty remains in Simmons' arbitration value. Not only does it remain unclear whether he will qualify as a Super Two (he has 1.125 years of service time), but his immense defensive value may not translate into commensurate arbitration earnings. Of course, another defense-first shortstop — Elvis Andrus of the Rangers — was able to ink a shorter-term, early-career deal (at three years of service) and then land another, much greater extension just a year later.
  • The Giants have at least two worthy extension candidates. The first and more pressing, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, is entering his final season before hitting the open market at age 28. But the sides are currently not engaged in talks, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. Cotillo notes that today's physical could have a bearing on how things play out. Sandoval, who at times has seen his conditioning questioned, has made some waves by slimming down entering camp this year.
  • A different sort of urgency is shaping up with regard to Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, who is scheduled for an arbitration hearing bright and early tomorrow. As Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, though discussions are presently focused on Belt's 2014 salary (the sides stand far apart at $3.6MM and $2.05MM), GM Brian Sabean says he remains interested in exploring a longer-term deal. "We like the player," said Sabean. "We think he's one of the up-and-coming players in the National League and we want to hold onto him. But first things first." What Sabean seems to mean is that Belt's future earning capacity through arbitration is very much tied to the divergent filing figures submitted by each side.
  • Indeed, Belt would stand at the same starting point as fellow Super Two first baseman Eric Hosmer (who agreed to a $3.6MM price with the Royals) if he wins his hearing. That would set both players on a potentially higher arbitration trajectory than that of another young first bagger, Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, who just inked a monster extension to avoid arbitration in his first of just three seasons of eligibility. Freeman had filed at $5.75MM, with the Braves countering at $4.5MM; both Belt and Hosmer could easily land in that realm with another big year. As I recently explained in discussing the impact of the Freeman deal, Belt and Hosmer could potentially look to Freeman's eight-year, $135MM contract as a target — though it remains to be seen, of course, whether their employers would go to that level.

Braves Release Mat Gamel

The Braves have released utilityman Mat Gamel, tweets David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Gamel, who was trying to work back from a pair of ACL surgeries, apparently reinjured his knee last week during personal workouts.

Once a highly-regarded prospect, the 28-year-old hooked on with Atlanta when his career never took off in Milwaukee. He has consistently hammered pitching in the upper minors, but never yet had the chance to be a big league regular. Set to become the Brewers first baseman last year, Gamel instead suffered his second ACL tear and missed the year.


How Much Would Kimbrel Have Earned In Arbitration?

Back in October, MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz explained that Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has been so good in his first three seasons, he broke our arbitration projection model.  We eventually decided to create a special rule because of Kimbrel, which limits a player's raise to $1MM beyond the previous record for his player type.  Since Jonathan Papelbon had set a $6.25MM first-time arbitration record for closers in 2009, we capped Kimbrel's 2014 projection at $7.25MM.

Without the rule, our system had assigned a $10.2MM projection to Kimbrel, so we lopped off about $3MM more for which he at least had a statistical argument, if not a precedent.  With such a wide spread of possibilities, it was no surprise when Kimbrel and the Braves ended up exchanging arbitration figures.  Kimbrel and his agent David Meter submitted a $9MM figure, a number reflective of the attitude, "We don't just deserve to beat Papelbon's record, we should crush it."  The Braves went with $6.55MM, which would have thrown Kimbrel just $300K beyond Papelbon's record despite this potential hearing coming five years later and Kimbrel's far superior statistical record.

With a midpoint of $7.775MM, Meter would only have had to convince an arbitration panel his client deserved a dollar more than that, meaning that Kimbrel should get $1,525,001 more than Papelbon did.  You always hear that arbitration hearings are a crapshoot, but if I were a betting man, I would have bet on Kimbrel's side.  It's not just Meter putting together the argument; they would have had the knowledge of a motivated players' union behind them. 

Once the two sides reached the point of exchanging figures, a one-year deal went off the board because of the Braves' file-to-go stance.  But the two sides still discussed a multiyear deal and were able to get it done.  Kimbrel signed a four-year, $42MM deal with a club option for 2018.  The deal bought out all three of Kimbrel's arbitration years and one free agent year, with the option for a second free agent year.

For Meter and the Braves, one key question that had to be explored before agreeing to this deal was how much Kimbrel stood to earn in arbitration going year-to-year.  I asked Matt Swartz to show me a few scenarios.  Initially, Matt used what I considered to be fairly conservative stat projections for 2014 and 2015.  He used Steamer's 65 innings, 28 saves, and 1.88 ERA for Kimbrel's 2014 season, and then regressed to the mean a bit on 2015 with 55 innings, 22 saves, and a 2.20 ERA.

Using these stats and assuming Kimbrel lost this month's arbitration hearing, he'd have salaries of $6.55MM, $9.9MM, and $12.9MM for a total of $29.35MM over his three arbitration years.  In his actual multiyear deal, Kimbrel will earn $28MM over his three arbitration years.  In this scenario, Kimbrel left just $1.35MM in arbitration money on the table.  In his multiyear deal he still conceded up to two free agent years, and of course the younger a free agent is, the better he does.

Using the same stats and assuming Kimbrel won this month's arbitration hearing, he'd have salaries of $9MM, $12MM, and $14.7MM for a total of $35.7MM.  It's interesting to note that there was a lot more at stake in the 2014 hearing than the $2.45MM spread — losing this one hearing would have lost Kimbrel a projected $6.35MM in total arbitration earnings.  Comparing the $35.7MM projection to the $28MM his contract pays, Kimbrel gave a discount of more than 21% for his arbitration years.   

As I mentioned above, I felt that Matt's statistical projections for Kimbrel were pretty conservative.  The 50 saves Matt projected for 2014-15 is equal to his 2013 total.  In three years as a closer, he's averaged 46 saves per year.  Still, great closers fall short of the 40 save plateau all the time.  I asked Matt to plug in 35 saves for each of the 2014 and '15 seasons and run the numbers.  With the pair of 35-save seasons, Kimbrel projected to earn $33.65MM for 2014-16 if he lost his 2014 arbitration hearing and $40.1MM if he won it.

It's clear that the Braves feel Kimbrel has a good chance to reel off quality 35 save seasons in his next two years, with a reasonable chance of more than 70 overall.  Let's say, then, that the team might estimate his arbitration earnings in the $34-42MM range.  Compared to the actual contract, they might consider their arbitration savings anywhere from 18 to 33%.  In the scenario where Kimbrel wins his 2014 arbitration hearing and then reels off a pair of 35 save seasons, which I find quite plausible, the Braves essentially secured his first free agent year for free, plus an option on a second.

Keeping with the 35 save scenario, Kimbrel's 2016 salary projected at $16.1MM if he won lost his 2014 hearing and $17.9MM if he won it.  Since more than 35 saves a year is certainly possible, I'd widen that range and just say Kimbrel could have earned $16-20MM in 2016 alone.  Whatever the exact number, even the free agent market is not paying that much for elite relievers.  The Braves were likely picturing not being able to keep Kimbrel on the team in 2016, a point at which he'd have reduced trade value with an arbitration salary outstripping his potential free market salary.  Furthermore, if you take a more aggressive 40 save projection for Kimbrel for 2014 and assume he would have won the upcoming hearing, a $14MM salary for 2015 appeared possible.  Even that might have been untenable for Atlanta, reducing their Kimbrel window to one more year.

Since Kimbrel could have potentially earned all $42MM through arbitration and then gone to free agency as a 28-year-old, you might ask why he signed this multiyear deal.  As with most multiyear deals, Kimbrel chose to leave some potential earnings on the table for guaranteed money now.  Eric Gagne is a cautionary tale.  The former Dodgers closer was invincible from 2002-04 and then pitched 15 1/3 innings from 2005-06 due to elbow issues.  If something like that happens to Kimbrel, he's still got all $42MM coming to him, which is not the case if he had decided to go year-to-year through arbitration.

The arbitration pay scale for closers is just wacky, even more so in a time where teams are backing away from huge contracts for relievers.  With this deal, the Braves subverted the arbitration system and found a way to keep an elite reliever for more than one or two additional years.  If Kimbrel stays healthy and reasonably effective, they'll save significant money compared to arbitration, too.  Kimbrel can rest easy, having secured his family for generations three years prior to when he would have reached free agency.  


Braves Extend Julio Teheran

MONDAY: Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports the contract's year-to-year breakdown (via Twitter): Teheran will receive a $1MM signing bonus and earn $800K in 2014. His salary jumps to $1MM in 2015, $3.3MM in 2016, $6.3MM in 2017, $8MM in 2018 and $11MM in 2019.

FRIDAY, 10:08am: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that the option is valued at $12MM and contains a $1MM buyout.

9:55am: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that Teheran's extension is worth a guaranteed $32.4MM, meaning he falls slightly short of Madison Bumgarner's $35MM record for a pitcher with one to two years of Major League service time.

9:25am: The Braves announced that they have signed standout right-hander Julio Teheran to a six-year extension that runs through the 2019 season and contains an option for the 2020 campaign. Teheran is a client of Relativity Baseball.

Teheran-Julio

Teheran, who had one year, 62 days of Major League service time, was already under control through the 2018 season. This new contract locks in all of his arbitration salaries and guarantees that the Braves can control one free agent year, with the potential for a second free agent season via the 2020 option. GM Frank Wren is quoted in the press release:

"We are excited to sign Julio to a long-term contract. He is one of the best young pitchers in the National League and one of our core of players we expect to be together for a number of years."

Indeed, the former top prospect took a massive step forward in his first full season at the big league level in 2013. After a slow start to the year (5.08 ERA in April), Teheran righted the ship and turned in an outstanding 2.86 ERA from May 1 through season's end. The net result was a 3.20 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 37.8 percent ground-ball rate. That performance was good enough for a fifth-place showing in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, though it should be noted that 2013 featured a particularly impressive crop of rookies. In another year, Teheran's performance — valued at 2.4 WAR by Fangraphs and 3.2 WAR by Baseball-Reference — may have been worthy of taking the award home.

While terms of the deal have yet to be disclosed, a look at MLBTR's Extension Tracker gives a list of comparables for pitchers with one to two years of big league service. Currently, Madison Bumgarner's five-year, $35MM contract (which contained two options) is the largest deal for a pitcher in this service class. As I speculated last week, when reports of the Braves' interest in an extension for Teheran surfaced, that type of guarantee is certainly within reach over a six-year span for the Colombian right-hander.

It's a surprise to see the Braves, a team not previously known for doling out extensions, sign two of their core players to significant long-term deals this offseason. The team announced a franchise-record eight-year, $135MM extension for Freddie Freeman last week and is also said to have interest in locking up Andrelton Simmons on a long-term deal. Prior to Freeman's extension, that last Braves player to sign an extension with fewer than five years of service time was Brian McCann back in 2007. The Braves did welcome former Rangers and Indians GM John Hart to their front office as a senior advisor this offseason, so perhaps the esteemed executive has had some influece on these decisions.

The Braves feature a wealth of home-grown starting pitchers, as Teheran now looks set to join Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen in the rotation for the foreseeable future. The fifth spot in 2014 figures to be filled by some combination of Alex Wood, Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia, although Wood (also a home-grown product) or top prospect and 2012 first-rounder Lucas Sims could eventually fill that slot on a more permanent basis.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.