Let’s break this down position by position:
- Left Field: Justin Upton. Age 26. Signed through 2015 (age 28 at deal’s end).
- Center Field: B.J. Upton. Age 29. Signed through 2017 (age 33 at end).
- Right Field: Jason Heyward. Age 24. Signed through 2015 (26).*
- Third Base: Chris Johnson. Age 29. Under team control through 2016 (32).
- Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons. Age 24. Signed through 2020 (31).
- Second Base: Dan Uggla. (nearly) Age 34. Signed through 2015 (35).**
- First Base: Freddie Freeman. Age 24. Signed through 2021 (32).
- Catcher: Evan Gattis. Age 27. Under team control through 2018 (32).***
- Starting Pitcher: Julio Teheran. Age 23. Signed through 2019 or 2020 (28/29).
- Relief Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel. Close to age 26. Signed through 2017 or 2018 (29/30).
* – sources indicate mutual extension interest, but may wait until next off-season.
** – heir apparent (Tommy La Stella) is ready to go immediately.
*** – heir apparent (Christian Bethancourt) is perhaps a year or less away.
That’s literally every position on the field covered for at least the next two seasons. Here’s the advantages to the Braves that will come from these deals.
1. Cost Surety. At a Reduced Rate.
Yes, they have spent a bunch of money. But part of the deal here is that the security (for the players) of added years is balanced with lower costs overall (for the team) – particularly in the later years of each deal. You can argue that this doesn’t necessarily apply to Freddie Freeman‘s deal (he gets $20+ million for 5 straight years), but there’s a special situation with him involving free agency and the likely wooing from other teams. The Braves opted to keep him anyway… and still didn’t blow the budget:
#Braves Wren: “For the most part, it hasn’t impacted 2014 payroll, and we still have flexibility to make moves as we go through the season”
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) February 20, 2014
So the Braves get to keep their homegrown talents at a cost that would be lower than the ‘market rates’ for each one.
2. Most Productive Years are Protected.
Of the current starters, only Dan Uggla is over 30 years old. The vast majority of these players are at-or-under age 26. Thus the Braves can enjoy the (likely) best years of these guys. All of them. Even if this doesn’t turn out to be true for a particular player, it should certainly be true for the group. And a comfortable group it will be, indeed.
Even once these deals run their courses, each player will have the option to try a ‘real’ free agency later – perhaps with another longish contracts, perhaps with another team. But the Braves will have milked their best in the meantime.
Baseball’s typical paradigm has been to make long-term deals with superstars at the height of their production… and this has chiefly lead to disappointment later for the signing teams. The Braves are evidently intent on embracing the John Hart paradigm of locking up their best while they are still on their ascent. Good on ‘em.
In fact, the best tweet I saw today (which for content reasons I will paraphrase and extend upon) indicated this:
- Alex Rodriguez‘ last contract extension: Age 32, 10 years, $275 million. His on-field performance has totaled 21.6 bWAR since that deal started… never mind his current issues.
- All of the Braves’ extensions worked out this year – combined: $280.7 million among five players… and none of them will older than ARod was when he signed when any of these contracts expire. In 2013 alone, those five players accounted for a combined 22.3 bWAR. (hat tip to Lee: see below)
3. The Farm System’s Condition is No Longer Relevant… for now.
The Braves do not currently have a highly-ranked farm system. Bleacher Report tags them 20th overall. Baseball Prospectus counts only two Braves farmhands among their top 100 prospects. MLB.com’s Prospect Watch has the same two players in their top 100. Just to be average, the Braves should have 3 or 4 players on those top 100 lists.
None of that matters for a while.
Sure, there may be holes to fill. If Dan Uggla is eventually jettisoned, then there’s a ready-to-go player in Tommy La Stella. If there’s a catching emergency, then Christian Bethancourt (one of those Top 100) can ably fill in. We still have Joey Terdoslavich and former top prospect Jordan Schafer ready to handle the outfield as needed. There are now no immediate needs for the next few years – and that will give the farm system time to recover, regroup, and reload for the future.
It also does something else: if a major need arises – say in pitching – then prospects are now a bit more available for future trades. For example, the fact that Andrelton Simmons is now locked up means that a talent like Jose Peraza could be made available to help out in another area. The Braves now have system-wide flexibility while they can be content to wait for a whole new crop of draftees to develop – just as the current crop had done.
Thus the new stadium deal has certainly emboldened the Braves to push forward with a bunch of new deals this month – with almost shocking speed. Even so they have done so with their usual fiscal restraint firmly in place. While the money has been spent, it has been spent in smart ways – with costs that should prove to be long-term bargains. In an era in which “bad” contracts hang around like over-staying relatives, none of these recent deals really feels like it will end up with that kind of stench.
Now comes the fun part: watching this team work to take full measure of these advantages they’ve created for themselves. And I think they have already figured out the position this puts them in:
#Braves GM Wren said there will be more young players signed long-term, though not necessarily this year.
— David O’Brien (@ajcbraves) February 20, 2014
They aren’t sitting back and resting. Not yet.