In a continued spending spree, the Braves announced Sunday that they had signed closer Craig Kimbrel to a 4-year, $42 million contract. Kimbrel’s deal includes a 5th year option for $13 million. Kimbrel and the Braves avoid an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for Monday.
Kimbrel’s deal is the largest contract in Major League Baseball for a closer who has not yet reached free agent status. The deal with Atlanta will lock Kimbrel up for what would have been his first 2 years of free agency, if not 3 depending on if his option is exercised.
Kimbrel’s contract comes on the heels of the signing of young pitcher Julio Teheran to a 6-year $32.4 million extension with an option for a 7th year (a total of $44.4 million). At 25, this contract will lock Kimbrel in until at least his 29th birthday. At 23, the Teheran deal will lock him in until his 29th birthday as well.
The early winter announcement that the Braves have purchased land in Cobb County to build a new stadium has given general manager Frank Wren room to negotiate new salaries with a young core of players (Freeman, Heyward, Kimbrel and Teheran). All three players who were headed for arbitration hearings–Freeman, Heyward and Kimbrel–were signed to extensions before their hearing dates. The next domino to fall for the Braves is likely to be defensive genius Andrelton Simmons.
Kimbrel has been the most dominant closer in baseball since his Rookie of the Year season when he set the mark for most saves by a rookie closer, surpassing another RoY winner Neftali Feliz. In his 3 years as the Braves closer, including his RoY campaign, he has recorded 138 saves. His best season in saves came in 2013 when he recorded 50 saves, the most in the National League.
Since making his MLB debut in 2009, he has recorded a career 1.39 ERA in 227 1/3 innings. He has an amazing SO/9 rate of 15.1 with 381 strikeouts to his career and has never given up more than 20 walks and 4 homers in a season. He was selected as an All Star in each of his 3 full seasons in the big leagues, has finished no worst than 9th in Cy Young voting each season and finished as high as 8th in MVP balloting in 2012. His career best season in ERA came in 2012 when he finished the season with a 1.01 ERA.
Young Julio Teheran has been a gem since his prospect years with the club. Though he got off to a rough start when first called up, his trip down to Gwinnett righted the ship and he has become one of the most consistent pitchers on Atlanta’s staff. In 2013, Teheran finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting following a 14-8 season with a 3.20 ERA.
In Teheran’s 3 years of service in the big leagues, he has a more than respectable SO/9 rate of 7.1 with 185 strikeouts to his young career (170 of them in his rookie of the year season). Teheran is a solid middle-to-back of the rotation option for the Braves with Minor and Medlen leading the way. He also has the reputation of having one of the best pick-off moves to first base in the league.
As the Braves begin camp, the present and future are looking very bright for the club.
Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.