A new day and it’s a new long term extension for one of the Atlanta Braves home grown players. Closer Craig Kimbrel has agreed to a four-year contract extension worth a reported $42 million, with a $13 million fifth-year option.
Kimbrel is a huge piece of the Braves strategy to win games, and the luxury of a shut-down closer is something that Fredi Gonzalez and Bobby Cox before him were certainly used to penciling into their game plan. Over the past three years he has been the best closer in baseball, leading the league in saves each year while making the All-Star team and receiving Cy Young and MVP votes. Kimbrel also won the Rookie of the Year award in 2011. He’s pretty much been money ever since his first full season in the Majors, and he’s going to be making a lot of… money.
In the last two weeks the Braves have given Jason Heyward a two-year $13.3 million deal, Freddie Freeman an eight-year $135 million deal, Julio Teheran a six-year $32.4 million deal, and now Kimbrel a four-year $42 million deal. That’s a total spending spree of just over $222 million, and they might not be done yet, with other young stars like Andrelton Simmons and Mike Minor the logical next players to be inked to long term deals.
This deal will likely be praised by some and looked upon skeptically by others. Big deals for closers and relievers have been risky business for teams in the past. Relievers are generally streaky players who can be subject to extreme good years and extreme bad years. The Braves are betting that Kimbrel’s consistency will continue, and they’re throwing caution to the wind that his max-effort delivery will not result in any sort of arm or shoulder problems. These are risks for any pitcher, but it seems like a good risk to take on Kimbrel, as these will be his prime years from age 26 to 29, with an option year at age 30.
These are the risks that every team has to take in order to win. There are no safe bets in baseball. It’s better to take these risks with players in the late-20’s — their prime years — than with players over 30. The Braves have clearly made this choice to commit money to under-30 players and let guys over 30 (like Brian McCann and Tim Hudson) move on.
I also like the Braves strategy of signing all of these players in one off-season. They’ve watched guys like Dan Uggla and then B.J. Upton struggle under the microscope of being the new guy with the big new contract. By signing four guys (and hopefully more) in one off-season, that takes the pressure off of any one guy to have to live up to his new big-money contract.