Craig Kimbrel Rumors

Latest On The Braves’ Offseason Plans

After speaking with president of baseball operations John Hart, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that the team could be aiming for a brief rebuild with an eye on the 2017 campaign.

The Braves’ top priority is to add a couple of starting pitchers that could step into the rotation. However, they’re better positioned, financially, to do that on the trade market, which would likely require dealing some established players, as the team doesn’t have a particularly deep farm system in the way of MLB-ready talent. O’Brien writes that one plan could be to trade both Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, with Evan Gattis sliding into left field and Christian Bethancourt handling everyday catching duties. Hart’s preference is to retain Gattis due to the four years of team control he has remaining.

O’Brien also adds that the Braves appear willing to listen to offers for any reliever with the exception of Craig Kimbrel, specifically listing Jordan Walden and David Carpenter as potential candidates. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted earlier tonight that the Braves might have interest in moving a relief arm for a back-of-the-rotation starter. That would provide them with some much-needed innings next season, as the team is currently thin beyond Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Mike Minor. Swingman David Hale could move into the rotation again, and the Braves have Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy as options with little certainty.


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.  


Rosenthal On Kimbrel, Braves, Red Sox, Burnett

Here's the latest from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

  • Rival executives aren't all enthusiastic about Craig Kimbrel's new deal with the Braves, citing the downside risk in long-term deals for closers. Rosenthal notes, however, that Kimbrel's new contract could reduce the Braves' payouts in what would have been his arbitration years.
  • The Braves' new ballpark galvanized the team's recent extension spree, GM Frank Wren says.
  • The Red Sox have enough depth that they don't need to worry about replacing Ryan Dempster in their rotation. The $13.25MM they would have paid Dempster also might not have a huge impact on whether or not they sign Stephen Drew. Signing Drew would cost the Red Sox the compensation pick they would receive if he were to sign elsewhere, and it would have implications for youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks as well.
  • A.J. Burnett says the two years he spent with the Pirates marked a new phase of his career. "I found who I was again, I guess," says Burnett. "I will never put myself in the same category as a (Roy) Halladay, ever. But as far as mentor-wise and player relations-wise, I became that guy over there. … It showed me who I was, who I could have been for a long time that I wasn't." After the Yankees traded him to Pittsburgh, Burnett emerged as a leader to younger pitchers like Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton.


NL East: Kimbrel, Burnett, Simmons, Dice-K

It has been a newsworthy Sunday in the NL East with the Braves extending closer Craig Kimbrel and the Phillies announcing the signing of A.J. Burnett. Here's the latest on those two deals and the rest of the division:

  • Kimbrel's agent David Meter called Braves GM Frank Wren one week ago and the extension was finalized Friday night, according to David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • ESPN's Buster Olney tweets the Kimbrel extension is a win-win for both sides.
  • The Kimbrel extension sets a good precedent for baseball because it will tamp down arbitration salaries for closers and it signals no closer will ever receive more than a four-year contract, writes Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio (Insider subscription required).
  • Burnett told reporters, including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel, he chose Philadelphia because of its proximity (a 90-minute drive) to his home in Monkton, MD. "This is the first time in my career that I made a decision that wasn't about A.J. Burnett. It was about my wife. It was about my kids. It was about playing somewhere where I'm at home and I can still do what I love. And that feels good. It was a no-brainer to me."
  • Burnett says he didn't receive much interest from the Nationals and Orioles, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today
  • Phillies Assistant GM Scott Proefrock, who lives a mile away from Burnett, told FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal the behind-the-scenes story of how the signing came about. 
  • Shortstop Andrelton Simmons could be next in line to receive an extension from the Braves, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets the two sides have a difference of opinion on the 24-year-old's future offensive value.
  • O'Brien tweets it's safe to say the Braves will extend Simmons either this year or next.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka has a May 30 opt-out in his minor league deal with the Mets, tweets Sherman.

Braves, Craig Kimbrel Agree To Extension

9:39am: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter) has the full breakdown of Kimbrel's deal.  The closer will earn a $1MM signing bonus, $7MM in 2014, $9MM in 2015, $11MM in 2016, and $13MM in 2017 with a $13MM option for 2018.  If the option is not exercised, Kimbrel gets a $1MM buyout.

8:58am: The deal gives Kimbrel a guaranteed $42MM over four years plus the $13MM option in 2015, tweets Mark Bowman of MLB.com.  Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter) adds that a potential $3.5MM in performance bonuses bring the total max value of the deal to $58.5MM.

8:36am: The Braves announced that they have agreed to terms with Craig Kimbrel on a four-year contract to avoid arbitration.  The contract runs through the 2017 season and includes an option for the 2018 campaign but financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the team. Kimbrel

There was a sizable gap for the two sides to bridge as they headed towards a hearing.  The closer submitted a $9MM figure while the Braves countered at $6.55MM.  As MLBTR's Matt Swartz wrote back in October, there's truly no precedent for a closer doing what Kimbrel has at this point of his career.  In fact, Kimbrel's numbers to date have been so impressive that they actually proved to be an exception to Swartz's carefully crafted model.  Other notable closers going through arbitration for the first time such as Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, John Axford, and Brian Wilson, had their stats eclipsed by Kimbrel.

We are very excited to agree to terms with Craig, who we feel is the best closer in Major League Baseball,” Braves Executive Vice President and General Manager Frank Wren said in the press release. “He is one of the key pieces of our pitching staff and we are happy to keep him in a Braves uniform for at least four more years.”

It has been a busy offseason for Wren, as shown in the MLBTR Extension Tracker.  Some might have thought that Atlanta was done after signing Freddie Freeman to a massive eight-year, $135MM extension and carving out a two-year, $12.3MM deal with Jason Heyward, but they found a way to also lock up their superstar closer.

In 68 relief appearances last season, Kimbrel turned in a 1.21 ERA with 13.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.  In total, the 25-year-old owns a 1.39 ERA with 15.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 over the course of four big league seasons in Atlanta.  For arbitration purposes, his career 139 saves (50 in 2013) helped his case in a major way.

Kimbrel is represented by David Meter of SportsMeter, according to the MLBTR Agency Database.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Braves, Kimbrel Could Be Nearing Extension

The Braves and Craig Kimbrel could be on the verge of avoiding arbitration by agreeing to an extension, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com (on Twitter).  The Braves closer submitted a $9MM figure while the Braves countered at $6.55MM.

As MLBTR’s Matt Swartz wrote back in October, there’s truly no precedent for a closer doing what Kimbrel has at this point of his career.  In fact, Kimbrel’s numbers to date have been so impressive that they actually proved to be an exception to Swartz’s carefully crafted model.  Other notable closers going through arbitration for the first time such as Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, John Axford, and Brian Wilson, had their stats eclipsed by Kimbrel.

Kimbrel is represented by David Meter of SportsMeter, according to the MLBTR Agency Database.


NL East Notes: Phillies, Gonzalez, Kimbrel

There isn't much optimism about the Phillies, but their roster has the talent to contend if it can stay healthy, Bob Ford of the Inquirer writes. Their season will turn on Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, all core players in their thirties. "I don't believe all of a sudden that these guys are so old that they've lost all of their bat speed, their quickness, and their abilities," says GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Here's more on the NL East.

  • Amaro will be the Phillies employee who faces the heaviest scrutiny this spring, but after that is Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, writes Matt Gelb of the Inquirer. "If I knew more what Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez was, I would feel better about it," says Amaro, referring to the Phillies' starting pitching. "We think he has the potential to be that guy. It's not a slam dunk. We haven't seen him pitch. In some ways, we have to get lucky on that one." Gonzalez and the Phillies initially agreed on a deal worth a minimum of $48MM, but the team ended up signing him for $12MM instead after concerns about Gonzalez's elbow scuttled the original deal.
  • The Braves' signings of Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward to extensions likely mean less money on hand to sign Craig Kimbrel. That might be justified given the decline in Kimbrel's deceptiveness last season, Alec Dopp of BaseballAnalytics.org writes. While Kimbrel was still dominant in 2013, his K:BB ratio took a big step backward, and batters made significantly more contact against him. His release point varied more in 2013, Dopp argues, which made it easier for batters to identify his pitches.

Braves Notes: Freeman, Heyward, Kimbrel, Uggla

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.

NL East Notes: Braves, Kimbrel, Nationals, Mets

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.

Olney On Kimbrel, Rumors, Morales, Ryan

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.