In the past two offseasons, the Atlanta Braves have lost the face of their franchise in Chipper Jones to retirement and their longtime backstop Brian McCann as a free agent to the New York Yankees.
But instead of worrying about who is leaving, the Braves turned their focus to locking up their young talent through their arbitration-eligible seasons.
In just the last few weeks, the Braves have shelled out a combined $303.7 million in multiyear contracts for five of their young stars: Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran and Jason Heyward.
Freeman was the biggest splash, as he signed an eight-year, $135 million deal. After putting up three straight monster seasons, he could actually be a bargain at $17 million annually if he continues his production of a .300 batting average, 25-30 home runs and near 100 RBIs.
And now that he’s getting the dough, Freeman will be expected to step up as the new face of the franchise -- certainly not a bad candidate to take over for Chipper Jones.
Kimbrel was an easy choice to lock up long-term as he’s been arguably the top closer in the NL, if not in all of baseball. Now that Mariano Rivera has retired, the torch of the dominant ninth-inning arm is being passed to Kimbrel, who signed for four years and $42 million.
He and the Braves were rather far apart in their arbitration numbers, so the Braves must have figured to just sign him long-term in order to buy him out. If the past three seasons are any indication, the team should feel that it has made a good investment.
As for Heyward, he’s had a tough time meeting his true potential due to injuries. In 2012, he showed glimpses of what the Braves hope for consistently after hitting .269 with 27 home runs, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.
He’s still only 24, and his two-year, $13.3 million deal buys out his final two arbitration-eligible years. If he could repeat 2012, that annual salary is an absolute steal. Even so, it’s a manageable number if he still struggles with injuries.
The deals to Simmons and Teheran could be considered gambles, but the Braves are banking on the high-risk, high-reward principle.
In his first full season as the Braves’ shortstop, the 24-year-old Simmons was an offensive force and wound up winning the NL Gold Glove for shortstops. He undoubtedly had a great season, but is one season worth a seven-year, $58 million contract? The Braves think so.
The same goes for Teheran, who finished 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA in 30 starts last season, his first extended big-league action. He’s now locked up for six years and $32.4 million.
Atlanta must have seen the potential with these players and decided to keep them around throughout their prime. The sample size may be small, but the baseball talent is obvious.
The Braves have always had a strong history of developing their own players. Rather than having to wave goodbye to their homegrown talent -- like in the case of McCann -- the team has made the smart move by locking up its core.
When the team moves into to its new stadium in 2017, Freeman, Simmons, Teheran and Kimbrel will be leading the way, with likely a few more young and talented homegrown players.
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