Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Atlanta Braves: Locking Up The Core

In a few short years the Atlanta Braves will be leaving their home lovingly known as 'The Ted' aka Turner Field. Turner Field and was built for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, it was then transformed into the new home for the Braves the move there from Atlanta Fulton County Stadium aka 'the launching pad'.  Turner Field, named after former owner and a media mogul Ted Turner is owned by the city of Atlanta and is now starting to show its age. By the time the braves moved to their new location it will be roughly 20 years old. Not that old by building standards but the fact that it is not owned by the ball club limits and what they can do in terms of upgrades and what revenue they can generate for themselves. For instance parking and concessions.

It is widely regarded that teams than build their own stadiums will receive and immediate bumping in revenue streams, that higher ticket sales and more people to the park. It stands to reason that if you're making more money you have more money available that can be put toward payroll. With the Braves owning the building in being the primary tenant has seemingly allowed the Braves to open up their wallets this off-season. GM Frank Wren has been given the authority and financial flexibility to identify the young core of the Braves moving forward.  Not only is moving into a new stadium helping their financial commitments, national television money as well as regional TV rights are allowing the braves to up their payroll. It has been a few years, probably not since Ted Turner sold the team to AOL Time Warner that the Braves have been in a position to spend a little more money.

GM Frank Wren and upper management have clearly made in a mandate to lock up their young core of players and haven't already begun that process this off-season. The Braves had three major young arbitration eligible players that they needed to take care of this off-season. In the beginning it and looked like they were going to be a file and a trial team. This basically means the player gave them a number they thought they deserved and the team did the same. A hearing would be held to decide which dumber would be used for the upcoming season. It appear the braves were going to take their chances on one ever the ruling was in each case for a one year deal.

It was then that the report came in that first baseman Freddie Freeman had signed an 8yr $135M contract. Freeman was in the running for NL MVP this past season and is currently only 24 and has now received the richest contract in teams history.  Right now it looks like he used to be tented as the new face of the franchise, ironically enough, taking that title from his good buddy Chipper Jones. After that deal was made and probably realizing that the free agent crop this year was not that deep the Braves came to terms on another in young potential star Jason Heyward on a 2 yr $13M deal.  Heyward is coming off a tough injury plagued season where he was sidelined after an emergency appendectomy for a few weeks, than came back and was inserted at the top the lineup where he and the team thrived during a double digit winning streak. Then an untimely (not that there is ever a good time) pitch to the face that fractured his orbital bone sent him to the DL again.  Because of all the missed time it was hard for the two sides to come up with a good mutual number on a long-term deal. If Heyward is able to stay healthy and produce to the level in which he and the team expects then they can begin to look at a multi-year extension.

At this point the braves surprised many people by turning their focus to one of their young key starters. Braves announced they had signed Julio Teheran to a six-year $32.4 million extension that includes an option for the 2020 season. If the option is exercised, the 23-year-old pitcher will earn $44.4 million over the next seven seasons.  Given the price of any of the top free agent pitchers each year, locking up Teheran now and buying out his arbitration years could potentially be a team friendly contract.  Even though he is young there's still a risk that the team is taking.  One can never predict injuries or drop off in skill when it comes to pitchers.  They're the biggest gamble of all.  Pick correctly and you set yourself up to be a contender for years to come, pick wrong and you have a very expensive player pitching at your AAA affiliate....  Blue Jays and Ricky Romero I am looking in your direction.

It looked like at that point the Braves would be done and have a whole off-season biz is taking care of, except of course the arbitration hearing for young closer Craig Kimbrel. It was thought that Kimbrel would go through the process get a one year deal and then the braves would have to decide how much they were willing to invest in a player who will only pitches one the inning, the ninth.  Sure it is a very important inning, when teams have to decide how important and how much money to allocate to that position.  It is a risky proposition to sign a closer to a big money multi-year deal.  The Braves have decided to take that risk and sign Kimbrel to a four year $42M deal.  Kimbrel has only been in the league for three seasons but has already proven himself to be one of the premier closer's in baseball and has had his name mentioned the last couple of years in both the CY Young and MVP categories.  The Braves are clearly taking your risk on him be able to sustain the level he is currently at.  If he is able to do so he will almost definitely and live up to his once on a  generation player type contract that he signed.  Hopefully for the Braves sake he can do that and not end up like a guy and within an anchor contract that has been given in the past to closer's like Randy Myers, Jonathan Paplebon and perhaps worst of all BJ Ryan.

I like with the Braves have done and have identified their core group and lock them up for the foreseeable future.  Sure they have are taking a risk but based on the age of the productivity and grooves that the players have shown thus far in their development, hopefully the moves will pay off in the long run and keep these guys together as perennial contenders.

To help the Braves keep the same winning message, they have just extended 2 more pieces of their core...on the management side. GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez have both come to terms with the team. This is a good sign, stability in a good franchise with a winning culture is key. Confidence breeds confidence and winning breeds winning.

Just as I was about to post this blog word came down that the The Braves have just signed Andrelton Simmons to a 7 yr 58M contract extension. Simmons now joins fellow teammates Freeman, Kimbrel, Teheran being locked up in the Atlanta system and putting them in a position to be in the organization when they make the move to their new stadium in 2017. Simmons is widely regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors. He also has showed that he has the  ability to impact games with his bat as well. He has very good offensive numbers and can  provide a little bit of pop as well. If he continues to improve as he gains more time this could be a great set up for the Braves over the next 5 years. It is an interesting plan that the Braves have to ensure that this group of guys will get to play and grow together.

The Braves have always been a consistent team but seemingly have constant turn over. With the
majority of their core being so young gives them the unique chance to set their line up as well as give the franchise a good idea of what there payroll will be and what they are able to do with other home grown talent as well as what they can and can not due in terms of  free agency. Sometimes making a big splash with a free agent signing is not nearly as important as the deals you can get done with guys you have drafted and/or developed.

It is interesting to note that former Cleveland Indians executive John Hart, who is now in the front office with the braves was one of the first GM's to utilize the strategy of identifying and wrapping up a core of young players.  Back in the early nineties Hart watched the Pirates lose key players like Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonillia because once they reach to free agency they were too expensive for the small market Pirates to afford. Hart rolled the dice by signing Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga to long-term deals before they were eligible for arbitration. This set the stage for long-term deals that likely kept Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez in Cleveland longer than if all of these players had been allowed to go through the arbitration process.

The Braves hitter knee identified this strategy as one that they would attempt to do even before hart joined the club but his knowledge and insight clearly help get all parties on the same page.

It will be interesting to see how these players perform going forward but if these players pan out and can form the core that the Braves hope they can they should be able to be in a position to contend each year for a division title and it hopefully also a playoff spot.
Welcome to Braves Country!

1 comment:

Eazy said...

I really love the moves the Braves have made of late. Locking up this key core of guys shows a commitment to winning from the top down, which is nice to see. Gotta love Simmons getting locked up, too. Such a wizard with the glove!