Atlanta Braves Rumors
Over the next few months, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.
In just over three years on the baseball diamond as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Craig Kimbrel has accomplished a wide variety of feats. He has led the National League in saves for three years in a row, with 139 saves in his young career. Kimbrel struck out a fantastic 381 hitters, which amounts to 43 percent of all hitters faced (more than twice the league average). He has also kept runs off the board like no one else, allowing a microscopic 1.39 ERA in his 227 1/3 innings pitched. Now, we can add one more trophy to his case here at MLB Trade Rumors: he is the namesake of the Kimbrel Rule, as well as the first player whose arbitration salary projection has ever been affected by it. Why do we need this Kimbrel Rule? Quite simply, Kimbrel broke my arbitration model.
The result that the model spit out was so outlandishly high that no panel would ever have awarded it to him. The model works by considering how panels and settling parties (teams and agents) have previously interpreted different statistics and factors into their decision, and provides a salary estimate based on these. This is often useful, for example, because we can see how many saves a closer would need to have to offset a higher ERA than a previous comparable. Similarly, for a hitter, we can see how much an MVP adds to salary and how many home runs a hitter would need to belt to make up the difference. However, there is no category in which Kimbrel failed to dominate the preceding closers who have reached their first year of arbitration.
Consider the following lists of maximum first-year salaries for closers in arbitration over the previous seven years:
Jonathan Papelbon ($6.25MM):
- Platform year—41 SV, 2.34 ERA, 69 1/3 IP, 77 SO
- Previous years—72 SV, 1.63 ERA, 160 2/3 IP, 193 SO
Bobby Jenks ($5.60MM):
- Platform year—30 SV, 2.63 ERA, 61 2/3 IP, 38 SO
- Previous years—87 SV, 3.26 ERA, 174 IP, 186 SO
John Axford ($5.00MM):
- Platform year—35 SV, 4.68 ERA, 69 1/3 IP, 93 SO
- Previous years—71 SV, 2.26 ERA, 139 1/3 IP, 171 SO
Brian Wilson ($4.46MM):
- Platform year: 38 SV, 2.74 ERA, 72 1/3 IP, 83 SO
- Previous years: 48 SV, 4.34 ERA, 116 IP, 108 SO
Now consider Kimbrel’s primary arbitration-relevant statistics:
Craig Kimbrel (unknown):
- Platform year—50 SV, 1.21 ERA, 67 IP, 98 SO
- Previous years—89 SV, 1.46 ERA, 160.1 IP, 283 SO
Now consider the records for each of these statistics by all closers (defined by having 15 platform-year saves or 50 pre-platform saves) put together before Kimbrel, which we will call Mutant Super-Closer:
- Platform year—41 SV, 1.71 ERA, 78 1/3 IP, 93 SO
- Previous years—87 SV, 1.63 ERA, 252 IP, 269 SO
Other than innings, Kimbrel actually beat the Mutant Super-Closer too. He beat every previous closer in every previous category.
Looking at the foursome of potential comparables above, it is clear that Papelbon is the only closer who even came close to achieving what Kimbrel ultimately has achieved, and he fell far short of Kimbrel’s accomplishments in every category.
Kimbrel had 50 saves in 2013, his platform season. The most any other pitcher has had going into his first year of arbitration in recent memory (which includes the last seven years, the data I have available) was Jonathan Papelbon, who had 41. No one had more career saves in recent memory than Bobby Jenks who had 117 going into arbitration for the first time, but Kimbrel has 139.
Kimbrel has a 1.39 career ERA, which is well ahead of any other closer reaching arbitration. The closest was Papelbon who had a 1.84 ERA going into his first year of arbitration in 2009, but his 2.34 platform year ERA fell far short of Kimbrel’s 1.21 mark for 2013.
Kimbrel also has all other closers beat on strikeouts too, tallying 381. The next highest for a closer going into his first year of arbitration was 362 strikeouts by Carlos Marmol leading into 2010, but Marmol’s 23 career saves at this point fall well short of Kimbrel’s 139.
In the end, there just weren’t any comparable pitchers for Kimbrel. There was no category where he fell short of another closer’s mark, and the accolades piled on to escalate his salary projection. This is why we invented “The Kimbrel Rule,” which is defined by limiting the maximum salary projection possible to exceed the previous record for his player type to $1MM (and similarly, the maximum raise for a non-first time eligible player is $1MM greater than the previous record raise as well). In this case, no one has ever earned more in their first year of arbitration as a closer than Jonathan Papelbon, when he earned $6.25MM in 2009, so Kimbrel is projected for $7.25MM despite the model itself predicting a salary well in excess of this amount.
This number was selected as a rough approximation of what teams, agents, and arbitration panels have historically decided on. In general, the model I use does a good job of approximating the end-result of their decision processes, but when faced with no historical precedent, there is often a settlement that avoids beating the previous record by too much. Therefore, we have made this specific rule a part of the model. It is not the first time that we have let the model “have eyes.” For players who do not play in a given season, we have observed that they so frequently get rewarded with their exact previous salary that this is now an explicit rule in the model. No player gets projected for a decrease in salary anymore because those that would have often received this floor anyway—their previous salary. Now, we have a rule for the ceiling for players.
We are eagerly awaiting the ultimate settlement in the Kimbrel case, because we have spent much of the last few months discussing the peculiar case of Mr. Craig M. Kimbrel. It is our suspicion that he will land much closer to the $7.25MM we have projected for him than the high number the model produced, which I might as well confess was actually $10.2MM. However, Kimbrel is not just the namesake of the rule; he is also the first test of the Kimbrel Rule. While a couple other players will have their salaries dampened by the Kimbrel Rule in 2014, the amount that it changed their salary projection was under $1MM in these cases, nothing that could shine a light on the theory. Going forward, this may be a clue about how to treat exceptional cases for us (and possibly, for the teams and players themselves). Of course, maybe the Braves will hurry up and settle with him before he breaks my computer.
The Mets were focused on position players in the 2012 draft, which is why they took shortstop Gavin Cecchini with the draft's 12th overall selection and didn't take Michael Wacha, the New York Post's Mike Puma writes. Paul DePodesta, the Mets' VP of player development and amateur scouting, tells Puma that "we really liked Wacha, and he was high up on our board," but the team felt it had enough minor league pitching depth already and needed help around the diamond. Wacha, of course, ended up going to the Cardinals with the 19th overall pick and has already emerged as a star during St. Louis' postseason run.
Here's some more from around the NL East...
- "The Braves certainly will entertain shopping" Dan Uggla, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reports, and he looks at the chances of Uggla re-joining the Marlins as part of a reader mailbag. Frisaro suggests the Braves would move Uggla if a team agrees to pay $6MM of the $26MM owed to Uggla through the 2015 season, and if the trade partner pays more, Atlanta could add a prospect. I'd suggest that the Braves would have to sweeten the pot to move Uggla, who turns 34 in March, is a defensive liability at second base and has only hit .201/.330/.374 over the last two seasons. The Braves have been linked to a possible deal of Uggla and a prospect to the Reds for Brandon Phillips.
- The Braves have "been lucky of late" to remain competitive despite overspending on Uggla and B.J. Upton, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Bradley warns that the team can't afford any more of these overpriced deals, and suggests that re-signing Brian McCann would create another payroll albatross in a few years' time.
- The Phillies' chances of re-signing Carlos Ruiz, their limited payroll and a suggestion about a David Price trade are all addressed in a Phillies-centric reader mailbag from MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.
- That limited Phillies budget could make it hard to upgrade their rotation since there won't be many bargains to be found on the pitching market this winter, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News writes.
- Matt Williams "seems to be the best available choice" to be the Nationals' next manager, and though Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post notes some of the risks involved in the impending hiring, he feels it could be a bold move for the team.
Here are the day's minor moves ...
- The Brewers have re-signed corner infielder Taylor Green to a minor league deal after he was recently outrighted, agent Joshua Kusnick announced via Twitter (hat tip to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Andrew Gruman of FOXSportsWisconsin.com). The contract includes several opt outs and an invitation to big league spring training. Though the 27-year-old missed most of 2013 due to injury, he has a nice .311/.386/.513 line in parts of two seasons at the highest minor league level. His major league career line is less impressive -- .207/.266/.343 -- but it has come in just 154 plate appearances over two seasons. MLB.com's Adam McCalvy has the details.
- The club is also close to reaching a deal to bring back lefty Zach Kroenke, who is also represented by Kusnick, McCalvy reports in the same link. Kroenke has spent much of his time in Triple-A since 2009, splitting time between relieving and starting. Last year, he put up a 4.51 ERA in 129 2/3 innings. His deal does not include an invitation to MLB spring training.
- Meanwhile, both lefty Chris Narveson and catcher/first baseman Blake Lalli have elected to become minor league free agents, notes McCalvy via Twitter. The news was originally tweeted by the Brewers Player Development account. Narveson, who spent 2010 and 2011 in the Milwaukee rotation but has not seen substantial MLB time since, was outrighted back in June. He posted a 5.14 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts this past season. Lalli, who was designated and then outrighted in September, has never been given a real chance in the bigs, but did put up a .282/.334/.447 line in 311 Triple-A plate appearances last year.
- The White Sox recently dealt for first baseman Jackson Laumann, sending the Braves cash considerations in return, reports Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. Laumann, a 20-year-old righty, has done little to impress in rookie ball but will get a new shot with an organization whose amateur scouting department is headed by his father, Doug Laumann.
- Alex Castellanos of the Dodgers remains the only player in DFA limbo at present, as reflected in MLBTR's DFA Tracker.
With the Cardinals advancing to the World Series yet again, SI.com's Tom Verducci writes that it is fair to expect more of the same in the future. Verducci says that the Adam Wainwright-Michael Wacha starting combo has been a younger version of the Diamondbacks' top-of-the-rotation duo of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling during that club's 2001 World Series run. Some of the Cards' top National League competitors, meanwhile, are already looking for ways to knock them off their perch:
- The Braves could be interested in trading for Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips if Cinci is amenable to taking on fellow keystoner Dan Uggla in the deal, tweets David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta would most likely need to part with a top prospect to make such a deal happen, according to O'Brien. We learned yesterday that the Redlegs were shopping their veteran second bagger.
- Meanwhile, after losing to St. Louis, the Dodgers face some significant questions about 2014, writes MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. The club holds options over manager Don Mattingly, second baseman Mark Ellis, and lefty Chris Capuano. With Juan Uribe and Ricky Nolasco reaching free agency, third base and the back end of the starting rotation are question marks. And the pen and bench could also be reworked, according to Gurnick. Though we've already heard that the skipper will return, the remainder of the openings just noted could be filled in any number of ways.
The Cardinals clinched the 19th NL pennant in franchise history (and fourth in the last 10 seasons) with tonight's 9-0 rout of the Dodgers in Game Six of the NLCS. Carlos Beltran continued his postseason dominance with a 3-for-4 night while NLCS MVP Michael Wacha threw seven shutout innings of two-hit ball to continue his stunning late-season run. Here are some notes from around the league...
- The Cardinals' peerless developmental system has unearthed many late-round draft picks who are currently playing key roles for the NL champions, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman writes, as former St. Louis scouting director (and current Astros GM) Jeff Luhnow describes how the club found some of those unheralded players. Heyman notes that the Cards' success is a good sign for the Astros, who hope Luhnow can duplicate that farm system in Houston.
- The Cubs are interested in interviewing Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo for their manager position, sources tell Patrick Mooney and Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. Lovullo shares some Boston ties with Theo Epstein, as Lovullo managed the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox in 2010. Lovullo has been linked to managerial jobs in the past and was cited as a candidate for the Mariners job earlier today.
- If Braves catcher Brian McCann receives a $100MM contract in free agency, ESPN's Dan Szymborski (Insider subscription required) projects that such a contract will be an albatross for the signing team.
- Doug Fister is the best candidate for a multiyear extension from the Tigers this offseason, Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press opines. Sharp suggests that the Tigers should offer Fister a four-year, $40MM deal but I'd argue that such a contract would be very team-friendly. MLBTR's Matt Swartz projects Fister will earn $6.9MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility this winter, so he could hit the $10MM average annual value threshold through arbitration alone in the 2014-15 offseason. If Fister keeps pitching as he has since coming to Detroit, it will cost much more to buy out two free agent years.
- The Dodgers need to make five moves, ESPN's Jim Bowden writes, in order to improve themselves in 2014 and perhaps take the next step into the World Series.
- Also from Bowden, he lists four of the so-called "immovable" contracts in baseball have at least a somewhat likely possibility of being traded, while also citing five contracts that are indeed virtually impossible to be moved. ESPN Insider subscriptions are required to read these two Bowden pieces.
The Mets were said to be intrigued by Jose Dariel Abreu's power but ultimately, they weren't one of the finalists for him and they weren't the team to sign him. Why didn't GM Sandy Alderson take the plunge? The Mets figure that they have first base covered between Ike Davis, Lucas Duda, and Josh Satin with possible support from Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The Mets weren't the only team in their division intrigued by the Serie Nacional star, however. Here's more out of the NL East..
- The Marlins were among the finalists for the Cuban slugger, but they bowed out of the bidding when it went north of $60MM, tweets Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. The Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, and Giants were also said to be among the clubs in the mix this week.
- The Nationals had interest in Abreu, but the dollar amount got "crazy" in their view, according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (Twitter link).
- Dusty Baker isn't expected to be a candidate for the Nationals' managerial job, Kilgore tweets. Baker contacted GM Mike Rizzo last week about his interest in the position but there doesn't seem to be any interest on Washington's end.
- A talent evaluator with knowledge of the Nationals' manager search tells ESPN's Buster Olney (Twitter link) that he would be shocked if Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams isn't hired.
- Braves GM Frank Wren recognizes that he needs to add experience to his rotation, writes MLB.com's Mark Bowman. Atlanta considered making a play for Jake Peavy at the trade deadline but those thoughts quickly fizzled when it became apparent that they didn't have the pieces necessary to close that deal.
Yesterday we learned that the Yankees and Carlos Beltran are expected to have mutual interest in a union this offseason. Today, David Lennon of Newsday weighed the pros and cons of that for the Bombers and noted that acting quickly - as the Tigers did with Torii Hunter - could help their efforts. Here's a look at the latest from the AL and NL East..
- Braves catcher Brian McCann could receive $100MM in free agency, a GM tells Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York. Marchand also notes that the Yankees feel that if Alex Rodriguez's PED suspension holds (meaning the Yankees would not have to pay his $25MM 2014 salary), they might be able to sign McCann in addition to Robinson Cano. McCann ranks fourth in Tim Dierkes' latest 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings, and MLBTR predicts that McCann will receive a five-year, $80MM deal.
- Red Sox reliever Matt Thornton won't retire after the season, CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes reports. Boston has a $6MM option with a $1MM buyout on Thornton's services for 2014, but it looks unlikely they'll pick it up, given that they left him off their ALCS roster. "I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near being done in my career,” says Thornton. "I feel like I have plenty left in the tank physically." The Red Sox acquired Thornton from the White Sox for minor-leaguer Brandon Jacobs in mid-July, but he missed time down the stretch with a strained oblique and did not pitch much in September.
- Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues looks at the Yankees' upcoming 40-man roster crunch. At this moment, the Yankees have 47 players on their 40-man roster.
Charlie Wilmoth contributed to this post.
Braves general manager Frank Wren has given indications that he would be open to re-signing Tim Hudson, tweets David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. MLB.com's Mark Bowman offers the same take (also via Twitter), though his wording -- "strong indication" -- is even more emphatic than O'Brien's.
Hudson, who turned 38 in July, saw his season end prematurely in a gruesome freak accident in which Eric Young Jr. stepped on his ankle in a race to first base, resulting in a fracture that would require surgery. Though he didn't pitch after July 24, Hudson still totaled 131 innings of 3.97 ERA ball with 6.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 55.8 percent ground-ball rate. Prior to his injury, he'd rattled off a 2.73 ERA over the course of 10 starts, shaking off the rust from an early-season slump.
In my recent free agent profile for Hudson, I noted that he could be forced to find a new team due to the Braves' wealth of young pitching talent. Atlanta currently has Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Alex Wood and David Hale as rotation candidates with big league experience, and that's before even mentioning top prospects J.R. Graham and Sean Gilmartin, each of whom could surface in the Majors next season.
If the Braves are interested in retaining their longtime rotation stalwart, it's hard to imagine a better fit for Hudson. He makes his home in the Atlanta suburbs, would be reunited with his coaching staff and teammates and would also joining a contender for the 2014 season. Hudson is scheduled to be healthy in early- to mid-November, so the Braves should be able to quickly determine how much they feel he can help them in 2014.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo wants his club's new manager to chime in on personnel choices over the off-season, writes MLB.com's Bill Ladson, but the team has yet to conduct any interviews and will not rush the process. Here are a few more notes from Nats Town and the rest of the NL East ...
- After accounting for arbitration-eligible players, the Nationals will probably enter the off-season with about $114MM already committed to payroll, reasons James Wagner of the Washington Post. That already-tall figure could actually understate things. The aggregate $33.7MM that Wagner allocates for arbitration falls about $6MM shy of the projections of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. In particular, Swartz expects starter Jordan Zimmermann to leap all the way up to $10.5MM in his second year of eligibility, and sees big paydays for both set-up man Tyler Clippard ($6.2MM) and shortstop Ian Desmond ($6.9MM).
- Desmond, along with Zimmermann, has long been considered an extension candidate. Now entering his second-to-last year of arb-eligibility after grossing 10 fWAR over the last two seasons (a full two wins better than the next-rated shortstop), Desmond's price is likely to continue going up. That makes it a good time to lock him up to a long-term deal, reasons Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com.
- While it may be tempting to attribute a major share of the Phillies' lost season to Roy Halladay's struggles, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News notes that every National League playoff club suffered an approximately similar loss of top-flight pitching. The ways to surmount such difficulties, he says, are to develop pitching depth in the upper minors, find value in free agency, and be unafraid to roll the dice on some players. The net for Philadelphia, according to Murphy, is that the club must cross its fingers on its top young pitchers, go after a turnaround candidate in the Francisco Liriano mold, and add multiple starting options in free agency.
- One major wild card is already seemingly entrenched in the Philly rotation: international free agent signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. As Philadelphia Inquirer colunist Bob Brookover reports, the 27-year-old is working in the Phils' Florida complex to establish a big league routine and build up strength for his first Spring Training.
- The major question marks facing the Braves are whether to bring back pitcher Tim Hudson and what to do with struggling, high-priced second baseman Dan Uggla, writes Mark Bowman of MLB.com. Bowman wonders if Atlanta might try to move Uggla, swallowing a big chunk of the $26MM that the 33-year-old is still owed. He also suggests that the team could push for a trade for a top-flight starter like David Price. As things stand, says Bowman, it appears that the Braves have the capacity to add something in the neighborhood of $15-20MM via free agency or trade.
- The Marlins have announced their 2014 coaching staff, including two new faces in hitting coach Frank Menechino and third base coach Brett Butler, the team announced on Twitter. As the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer notes, both additions carved out nice careers in the bigs. In particular, Butler accumulated somewhere between forty and fifty wins above replacement, depending upon whom you believe, over his 17-year career. The outfielder posted only a .376 lifetime slugging percentage, but his on-base percentage exceeded that mark by one hundredth of a point. He had served as the manager of the Diamondbacks' Triple-A affiliate for the last five years.
The NL East's post-season entrants have disappointed in the playoffs over the last three years, and it now stands as the only division not to get a team into the championship series over that period. As its clubs prepare to bolster their chances for 2014, let's take a look at a few notes from around the division ...
- There may be mounting pressure for the Mets to make a splash, but sources tell Andy Martino of the New York Daily News that GM Sandy Alderson will act in characteristic fashion and won't give Robinson Cano the long-term pact that he seeks. And while the Mets like Jose Dariel Abreu's power, sources familiar with their thinking say they won't make a play for the Cuban slugger.
- The Phillies have a variety of needs to address in the coming off-season, and numerous question marks. MLB.com's Todd Zolecki answered a few reader questions about the club's roster, and opined that it may be best served by not rolling the dice on a bounce back from Roy Halladay.
- Though it remains hard to fault Philadelphia for failing to outbid the Nationals for Jayson Werth three years ago, the Phils have yet to find a long-term replacement in right field, notes Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. Lawrence says the club could consider signing a center fielder such as Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson, bumping Ben Revere to left in a platoon with Darin Ruf. Or, it might pursue a pure corner option like Shin-Soo Choo, or look further down the market at comeback hopefuls like Michael Morse and Corey Hart. But Lawrence opines that the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran could be the most attractive option, reasoning that the Phils may need to roll the dice that he will keep producing into and beyond his age-37 season.
- Looking back on the year for the Braves, MLB.com's Mark Bowman notes the contributions of third baseman Chris Johnson, who started the year in a platoon after coming to Atlanta as a minor piece in the Justin Upton trade. Indeed, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the club's surprising Chipper Jones replacement, who was actually worth more fWAR than the player (Martin Prado) who was expected to step in at third until being dealt for Upton. Of course, Johnson's big season also puts him in line for a higher-than-expected salary in his first season of arbitration eligibility. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects that he will cash in for a $4.2MM award.
Zach Links contributed to this post.