Atlanta Braves Rumors
The Braves haven't been known as a team that's big on working out long-term extensions for arbitration eligible and pre-arb players, but that reputation may be changing. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (via Twitter) that after this week's colossal eight-year, $135MM Freddie Freeman extension and a two-year, $13.3MM deal for Jason Heyward, the Braves are interested in working out extensions for shortstop Andrelton Simmons and right-hander Julio Teheran.
Simmons currently has one year, 125 days of Major League service time under his belt. Extensions for shortstops with between one and two years of service time are a rarity, though Troy Tulowitzki inked a six-year, $31MM contract with one year, 33 days of service. Simmons is cut from a different cloth than Tulowitzki, but that contract is also six years old. Recent extensions for defensive-minded shortstops who signed with two to three years of service time include Alcides Escobar (four years, $10.5MM) and Elvis Andrus (three years, $14.4MM). Simmons is regarded as a superior defender to both and has more power than either of his slick fielding peers, and neither was a Super Two player. As such, his remaining years of team control figure to come at a higher price than either Andrus or Escobar, especially considering that each of those contracts is two years old.
While the potential for Super Two status throws a wrinkle into talks, both Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun had clauses built into their contracts boosting future guarantees should the reach arbitration eligibility early. Simmons could end up in the $20-25MM range for his remaining five years of team control, depending on Super Two status. For the purposes of this projection, I'll split the middle and project $22.5MM for his five years of team control. Tacking on a free agent year at a discounted rate of $10MM would put him into the six-year, $32.5MM range. In reality, nothing in the mid-$30MM range would surprise me, as the final number would be dependent on his Super Two status and the contract language negotiated by the Braves and his agents at Relativity Baseball. Free agent seasons beyond that would figure to escalate, perhaps bringing his price range into the upper-$40MMs on a seven-year deal.
Shifting to Teheran, the right-hander currently has one year, 62 days of service time. There's a much larger sample of historical context when looking at his case, as starters Martin Perez, Wade Davis, Brett Anderson, James Shields and Cory Luebke have all signed four-year deals in the $12MM range with multiple club options at similar junctures of their careers. Madison Bumgarner and Ricky Romero each netted more than $30MM over a five-year span, but they projected as potential Super Two players and each had experienced more success by that point in their careers.
It's also important to remember that most of those four-year, $12MM deals are several years old (with the exception of Perez). Each contained relatively tame arbitration salaries, but the days for those types of deals could be coming to an end due to inflation and increasing TV revenues (Freeman's deal, in particular, demonstrates the rising price of extending young talent). Teheran could sign away his two remaining pre-arb years and his first two arbitration eligible seasons for something in the $14MM range, plus a pair of options that would cover his third arb season and first free agent year. The option values on previous contracts of this ilk ranges from $15-20MM. Placing Teheran slightly north of that scale, a potential extension could reach $35MM or so over a six-year span, assuming both options on the deal are exercised.
One thing working in the Braves' favor when it comes to this potential rash of extensions is the new Cobb County stadium on the horizon, which figures to boost revenue (as pointed out by David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Twitter). The increased revenue from the stadium should help to offset, to an extent, the fact that the Braves' television contract as believed to provide them with less than $20MM annually (O'Brien reporting).
That's clearly not the case for all teams, as new television deals have infused the game with more money than ever. That influx of cash could render historical context on contract extensions -- even from two years ago -- largely irrelevant. Players such as Simmons, Teheran, Jason Kipnis and Wil Myers (just to name a few examples) could redefine the market for pre-arb extensions in the next 12 to 14 months.
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs looks at Freddie Freeman's massive eight-year, $135MM extension and concludes that the contract continues the trend of teams paying for youth over track record. Cameron notes that we saw a similar gamble with the Yankees' investment in Masahiro Tanaka -- a player with literally no track record in the Majors but the allure of his prime years being for sale. Cameron draws comparisons to Ryan Braun and Shin-Soo Choo (whose contracts run through their mid-30s) in stating that the prime years of a "good-not-great" player are more valuable than the decline years of a superstar who is rewarded for what he has done rather than what he will do in the future. More on Freeman's deal and the Braves...
- In an Insider-only blog post (subscription recommended), ESPN's Buster Olney writes that the Freeman extension has plenty of meaning for his teammates. For one, Olney feels that the deal all but guarantees that Jason Heyward will be playing elsewhere in 2016. Heyward will likely be too spendy for the Braves as a 26-year-old free agent if he plays well for the next two seasons, as the team won't be able to afford both him and Freeman. If Heyward doesn't play well enough to land a massive free agent deal, the Braves likely won't be interested in retaining him anyhow.
- Likewise, Olney continues, the Braves are unlikely to be able to afford Craig Kimbrel in the long-term, and the Freeman contract gives the front office with "a greater foundation on which to explain to the fan base that difficult choices have to be made." Olney opines that the Braves would be wise to shop Kimbrel as soon as this summer, even if they are contending, as his value will be at its apex, and history shows that teams pay more for relievers in midseason trades than in offseason trades.
- David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote earlier in the week (prior to yesterday's extensions) that though the Braves did not make any significant upgrades to their 2014 roster, the team is still well-positioned to contend. O'Brien points out that Atlanta will get a full season of Brandon Beachy to help offset the loss of Tim Hudson, adding that the Braves' rotation already ranked sixth in the Majors in ERA last season. Similarly, the Braves can expect ace setup man Jonny Venters back in May, which should further bolster their pitching staff.
- O'Brien also addresses the unlikely issue of a Dan Uggla trade, noting that even with a monster Spring Training that had scouts starting to believe, the Braves would need to eat as much as $16-18MM of the remaining $26MM on his contract to facilitate a trade. In the event that they're able to trade Uggla, Atlanta would be content to let Tyler Pastornicky, Tommy La Stella and Ramiro Pena handle second base.
Despite their "file and trial" stance with respect to the arbitration process, the Braves made clear today that the club did not extend its refusal to negotiate after exchanging figures to multi-year talks. After inking a two-year pact with Jason Heyward that did not extend club control, Atlanta promptly locked up Freddie Freeman to a long-term deal. The Heyward deal, in particular, reveals another benefit of the file-and-trial approach, writes Eno Sarris of Fangraphs. By holding out on seemingly inconsequential portion of Heyward's salary, Atlanta obtained sufficient leverage to add another year (and attendant cost-certainty) to Heyward's contract. Here's more on the Braves' interesting arbitration season and the rest of the NL East:
- Of course, Heyward's deal also provides security for the oft-DL'ed 24-year-old, though with his talent it is somewhat difficult to imagine any scenario where he would not have been tendered a contract next year. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter links) that Heyward's representatives at Excel Sports Management approached the front office about a multi-year deal after exchanging figures. Though his spate of injuries (and correspondingly limited statistical production) hindered discussions, says Sherman, the gap was spanned and agreement reached on the value of Heyward's remaining arb-eligible years.
- In spite of the deals with Heyward and Freeman, Atlanta remains all but certain to face a hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, reports Jeff Passon of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter). With a substantial gap between Kimbrel's $9MM figure and the club's $6.55MM counter in Kimbrel's first year of arbitration eligibility, the outcome of that hearing (scheduled for February 17th) could go a long way toward determining the outstanding closer's future salary -- and, potentially, even what uniform he will wear for the long haul.
- After losing out on bench bat Jeff Baker, the Nationals are still on the hunt for late-off-season value, writes James Wagner of the Washington Post. In particular, says Wagner, the Nats remain very interested in southpaw reliever Oliver Perez, who is reportedly close to choosing a team.
- The Mets are still saying that a Stephen Drew signing remains a "long shot" for the club, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. We heard earlier today that New York had not made an offer to the free agent shortstop.
11:35am: Heyman tweets the financial breakdown of the contract: Heyward receives a $1MM signing bonus, a $4.5MM salary in 2014 and a $7.8MM salary in 2015.
10:34am: David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (via Twitter) that Heyward's deal also contains performance escalators that could boost the value of his contract's second year.
Meanwhile, Wren tells MLB.com's Mark Bowman that the club still has a strict "file and trial" policy, but it doesn't apply to multi-year deals (Twitter link). In other words, they won't continue to negotiate one-year deals with Freeman or Kimbrel from this point forward, but extensions could still be reached. That approach is typical of many file and trial clubs.
10:08am: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Heyward's deal will pay him $13.3MM over the next two seasons.
10:00am: The Braves have issued a press release to announce the signing of right fielder Jason Heyward to a two-year contract. The contract, which covers the 2014-15 seasons, prevents Heyward and the Braves from going to an arbitration hearing. Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Braves.
Heyward, a client of Excel Sports Management, exchanged arbitration figures with the Braves last month. The 24-year-old former All-Star filed for a $5.5MM salary, while the Braves countered at $5.2MM. The gap between the two sides may seem small, but this is extension serves as a reminder that "file and trial" teams such as the Braves may still be open to negotiating multi-year deals after exchanging figures. This gives the Braves and their fans hope that the potential hearings for closer Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman can be similarly avoided.
"Jason is an important part of our organization and we’re glad that we were able to agree on a multi-year contract," said general manager Frank Wren within the release.
Though Heyward has never matched the on-base skills he displayed in his outstanding rookie season (.277/.393/.456), and his power dipped from 2012 to 2013 (27 homers/.210 ISO vs. 14 homers/.173 ISO), Heyward consistently turns in solid offensive contributions and elite defense in the outfield.
This new contract buys out his final two years of arbitration eligibility, meaning he's on track to become a free agent heading into his age-26 season. Cases such as that are so rare in today's world of extensions, that Heyward is poised to be one of the most coveted free agents in recent history should he stay healthy and not sign a further extension.
As MLBTR's Arbitration Tracker shows, there are 22 remaining arbitration cases that have yet to settle. Among those, some of the most likely to go to hearings are those of the Indians and Braves. GM Chris Antonetti of Cleveland says that his club is highly likely to see at least one hearing, while Atlanta counterpart Frank Wren has insisted that all three of his team's cases will not be negotiated further. Here is the latest on those arbitration situations:
- The Indians are at a standstill with reliever Vinnie Pestano, tweets MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. With the sides' positions standing at $975K and $1.45MM, respectively, a hearing set for this coming Friday could be needed to provide resolution.
- Meanwhile, progress has been slow in talks with fellow Cleveland reliever Josh Tomlin, Bastian tweets. Though the sides are positioned across a seemingly minor gap ($800K vs. $975K), they would go to hearing on February 14th if resolution cannot be reached.
- For starter Justin Masterson, both he and the team will be closely watching the still-unresolved arbitration case between Homer Bailey and the Reds, Bastian writes. The two have had similar production levels and face similar spreads in their filing figures. Additionally, either could look to the other as a comp in extension negotiations. Bastian previously reported that Masterson and the Indians were set for hearing on February 20th.
- If nothing changes the position of the Braves, then the team is headed to three hearings in one week over mid-February. As David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports via Twitter, Freddie Freeman ($5.75MM vs. $4.5MM) is scheduled for February 11th, Jason Heyward ($5.5MM vs. $5.2MM) for February 13th, and Craig Kimbrel ($9MM vs. $6.55MM) for February 17th.
The Braves are close to announcing an extension for Freddie Freeman, according to Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Freeman, like teammate Jason Heyward (who reached a two-year contract agreement earlier today), is represented by Excel Sports Management.
The 24-year-old Freeman is coming off a breakout season in which he finished fifth in the National League MVP voting and earned his first All-Star nod. Freeman slashed .319/.396/.501 with 23 homers for the NL East Division champs in 2013. He and the Braves faced a fairly wide gap after exchanging arbitration figures last month, as Freeman filed for a $5.75MM salary and the Braves countered at $4.5MM.
Though the Braves are a "file and trial" team, GM Frank Wren reminded after Heyward's new contract that said policy is only in reference to one-year deals. That line of thinking is common among file and trial clubs, as they are unwilling to continue negotiating one-year pacts after exchanging figures but will typically remain amenable to extensions leading up to an arbitration hearing.
It's unclear at this time if the Braves are looking at simply buying out Freeman's arbitration years, as they did with Heyward, or if they're pursuing a long-term deal that will buy out free agent seasons as well. This is Freeman's first time through arbitration, and he is currently under team control through the 2016 season.
This post was originally published on Feb. 4, 2014.
The MLBPA has spoken to Major League Baseball COO Rob Manfred about their concerns over team executives talking about whether or not they're negotiating with free agents, which is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports. Some players are also upset at the slow pace of the free agent pitching market, and while Rosenthal says the union could consider filing a grievance, such an action would be hard to prove given that teams have already spent close to $2 billion on free agents this offseason.
Here's some more from around baseball on Super Bowl Sunday...
- The Braves will have to make some tough decisions about which of their young core players they want to extend while keeping their payroll in check, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes (subscription required). The experience of many of Atlanta's best young players is another issue, Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh tells Bradley, since "most of them have established themselves. (The Braves) possibly might have already missed the window of getting a good deal.”
- The Red Sox are wary about making too long a commitment to 38-year-old David Ortiz given how aging designated hitters can so quickly decline, Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes. Ortiz is under contract through 2014 and recently said he would like another year added to his contract. While Ortiz's age is a concern, Lauber notes that if the Red Sox don't extend Ortiz and he has another big season, the Sox will then be forced to sign him through at least 2016 to keep him in Boston.
- Jon Lester is another Red Sox player mentioned in extension rumors, and John Tomase of the Boston Herald looks at the somewhat shaky history of left-handed starters who sign expensive contracts into their 30's. Since Lester has said he would give the Red Sox a hometown discount, Tomase thinks a five-year, $100MM extension could work for both sides.
- The Rays are still having talks about trading catcher Jose Lobaton, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Lobaton looks like the odd man out behind Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina, though Topkin notes that the team could still bring Lobaton to Spring Training in case one of their regulars gets injured. If another team develops a catching need later in the spring, as well, the Rays can explore moving Lobaton then.
- Also from Topkin's piece, the Rays have focused on adding depth this offseason to give themselves plenty of roster flexibility and options heading into Spring Training.
- The Indians believe that Joe Smith was their biggest bullpen loss this winter, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, not former closer Chris Perez. The Tribe rebuilt their bullpen and hope that John Axford can cinch the closing job, Vinnie Pestano returns to his old form and that young arms Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen continue to deliver quality relief innings. Pluto notes that the Indians hope Shaw turns into a new Smith, and the club sees Allen as a future closer.
- Baseball America's Matt Eddy recaps the week's minor league transactions.
In his latest ESPN Insider piece (subscription required and recommended), Buster Olney covered some interesting topics. Among them:
- It makes sense for the Braves to roll the dice on winning their upcoming arbitration hearing with closer Craig Kimbrel, says Olney, who notes that Kimbrel could otherwise earn more through arbitration than he might get on the open market. The stakes are high for both sides: Kimbrel's $9MM demand would set him up for perhaps a $14-15MM payday next year, while the Braves' $6.55MM counter could hold him to the $10-11MM range in 2015. That could make the difference between whether he is kept in Atlanta or is instead dealt to free up payroll space. And, as Olney notes, the return on Kimbrel in a trade might not be quite what fans would hope for if he is going to be paid like a starter.
- In spite of the MLB rules prohibiting team officials and agents from dispensing certain types of information regarding free agents, says Olney, a "tsunami of disinformation" has hit the rumor mill this offseason.
- Some MLB team executives have told Olney that Kendrys Morales may need to wait to sign until after the June 5-7 amateur draft if he hopes to beat the $14.1MM qualifying offer rate that he previously declined. By rule, a signing team would no longer be required to sacrifice draft pick compensation for Morales at that point. And, Olney notes, injuries and other happenings could increase demand.
- One major issue (among others) with this hypothetical strategy, I would suggest, is that Morales would only be able to earn a prorated portion of whatever 2014 salary he arrives at. For a player who was never really expected to land more than a two-year deal, giving up half-a-year of playing time might be more costly than just signing with the compensation attached.
- If Nolan Ryan joins the Astros organization, reports Olney, he will not be interested in serving as a figurehead and will want to have a voice in player personnel decisions.
The Mariners are "back in business, showing strong interest" in Nelson Cruz and Fernando Rodney again, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports in his latest column. The Mariners, who are said to have some financial leeway by new team president Kevin Mather, is also looking at the trade market for starting pitchers, though they're not currently focused on David Price or Jeff Samardzija. Rosenthal also notes that the Indians aren't having any conversations on Justin Masterson, nor are the Reds inclined to move any of their starters, further limiting the list of trade targets. More highlights below...
- Cruz could be a fallback option for the Rangers, but probably only if he's willing to sign a one-year deal. Bringing Cruz back would allow the Rangers to deal Mitch Moreland.
- Rosenthal wonders if the Reds should be thinking about dealing a starter. While they're trying to extend Homer Bailey, that seems to be a tall order as he's just one year from free agency. Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are all only controlled through 2015, and as Rosenthal notes, not all can be long-term pieces.
- The Athletics aren't considering making a run at Stephen Drew and shifting Jed Lowrie from short to second base. The A's are comfortable platooning Eric Sogard and Nick Punto.
- A rival executive wondered to Rosenthal if the Braves would match up with the Mariners on a Dustin Ackley trade, but Rosenthal hears that the Braves aren't looking for a second baseman. They currently have Dan Uggla, who is owed $26MM through 2015, and three fallback options in Ramiro Pena, Tommy La Stella and Tyler Pastornicky.
- Braves GM Frank Wren said he doesn't hold any ill will toward players who go to arbitration hearings -- such as the ones he could face with Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman: "We don’t look at it as an antagonistic process. We look at it as a solution to a disagreement on a player’s salary."
TheScore.com's Drew Fairservice examines the likely arbitration trial the Braves will undergo with closer Craig Kimbrel, noting that it's difficult to imagine the Braves coming out on top of that hearing. Fairservice points out a number of Kimbrel's feats, including the fact that he has the lowest ERA and highest strikeout in history for a pitcher with 200+ games as well as the lowest ERA ever for a reliever through his first four seasons. More from baseball's Eastern divisions...
- Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes that it makes little sense for Fernando Rodney to go to the Mets. Team insiders tell Martino that Bobby Parnell has been assured the ninth inning is his, so Rodney would likely only pitch as the closer in the event of a setback in Parnell's recovery or further injury.
- Also from Martino, the Yankees haven't had any talk with Rodney since one "very preliminary" discussion back in November. While the team is aware of its bullpen holes, a Major League source tells Martino that they lack the payroll flexibility to address the 'pen after signing Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees are hoping that Dellin Betances can serve as a power reliever, Martino adds.
- Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg will have many decisions on his hands in Spring Training as he looks to sort out the team's bench, writes Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sandberg said Freddy Galvis is a lock for the bench, and Gelb notes that Wil Nieves' $1.1MM salary makes him the likely backup catcher. Beyond that, there are no certainties. Gelb writes that John Mayberry could be traded in Spring Training, and the team would prefer a left-handed bat to back up Ben Revere in center.
- General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. also told Gelb that the Phillies do not have any standing Major League offers to free agents at this time.
- In response to David Ortiz's comments that he would play elsewhere if he couldn't work out a multi-year deal with the Red Sox, second baseman Dustin Pedroia told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford that the team should give Ortiz "whatever he wants." Pedroia spoke not only about how productive Ortiz is, but how much he likes Ortiz's passion and attitude as well as what Big Papi means to the team.
- Pedroia also told Bradford that he "hates" the business side of baseball and is glad he doesn't have to worry about it for the rest of his career. On a related note, he said he doesn't fault Jacoby Ellsbury for signing with the Yankees: "He got an offer he couldn’t refuse. I don’t think anyone would fault him for going where he went and that’s that. I’m happy for him. That guy, he played his butt off for us. We won two championships together."