John Hart on Atlanta’s Extension Spree and the Future of Club-Friendly Contracts
Last month, I wrote about what looked like a coming contract crisis for the Atlanta Braves’ young core, wondering when the Braves would approach their young players about long-term deals and speculating that Atlanta’s hiring of senior advisorJohn Hart—who pioneered the concept of contract extensions for young players while serving as the Indians’ general manager in the 1990s—might portend an extension spree. None of this was news to Braves president John Schuerholz and GM Frank Wren, who had already been laying the groundwork for contract talks with their young stars. Since then, we’ve seen Atlanta swiftly defuse any fears that they would be priced out of their own players, buying out Jason Heyward’s remaining arbitration years and signing Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrelton Simmons to extensions of various lengths. (Links to Transaction Analysis: Freeman; Teheran and Kimbrel; Simmons.)
Shortly before the Simmons extension was announced, I spoke with Hart about the Braves’ incentive to do the deals, the parallels between Atlanta and his Cleveland clubs, the ways in which the pursuit of extensions has changed, and how we might see teams try to get creative with the structure of extensions in the future.
Ben Lindbergh: What are the parallels between the Braves now and the Indians when you pioneered the concept of extensions? Do you see some similarities in the situations of the two clubs?
John Hart: Well, ours was a little bit different because when I went to Cleveland, it had been 40 years of a bad team. We worked long and hard to draft the right players. We made a lot of deals for the Loftons, the Alomars, the Baergas, Sorrento, Vizquel to go along with the Thomes and the Mannys and different guys we had drafted, Charlie Nagy, Albert Belle. We were probably the lowest-revenue club. We were in the old stadium. With a low-revenue team that had had really no success, we were trying to do two things. One was not to run an entire class through arbitration and two was to demonstrate to our fan base that we were in this for the long haul. It’s sort of a turnover route in Cleveland—when a guy got close to free agency he was traded, there was no long-term commitment.
Reactions To The Andrelton Simmons Extension
Back in September, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd wondered whether or not the Braves would look to extend their young core, and the last three weeks have revealed the answer: a resounding yes. Earlier today, the Braves announced that they had agreed to a seven-year, $58MM contract extension with defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons. The extension marks the fourth extension of at least four years for the Braves in the past three weeks and the sixth multi-year deal they’ve signed. Counting the new contracts for Simmons, Freddie Freeman,Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Jason Heyward (two-year deal), the Braves have committed just over $280MM in salary to their young core. Here are some reactions to their latest long-term pact…
- Dave Cameron of Fangraphs compares Simmons’ extension in comparison to the arbitration paydays of several defensive-oriented players such as Elvis Andrus, Brett Gardner and Michael Bourn. Cameron notes that Simmons received roughly double what can be expected for a glove-first player based on their salaries. However, he also looks at Simmons’ chances of becoming a Super Two player and the potential for offensive growth, noting that he’s one season of strong numbers at the dish away from rocketing himself into another stratosphere alongside the likes of Troy Tulowitzki andBuster Posey.
Wren, Braves look to future, stay within ’14 budget
Extending contracts of young players indicates payroll will increase in coming years
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — While providing Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran long-term extensions over the past two weeks, the Braves have clearly indicated that they plan to increase their payroll within the next few years.
But in the process of constructing these deals, general manager Frank Wren and his staff members stayed within the restraints of this year’s budget.
The Braves are currently set to spend at least $93 million on salaries and slightly more than $4 million in signing bonuses. The total will increase courtesy of incentive clauses and the addition of players to the Major League roster throughout the season.
Still, Wren has indicated he will have payroll flexibility to make in-season acquisitions to account for injuries or the need to strengthen an area of the club.
“You escalate when [the players] are paid,” Wren said in reference to the extensions. “But for the most part, it hasn’t really impacted our 2014 payroll. We still have flexibility to make moves as we go through the season. I think as you look at our long-term payroll, it also fits for us. It has worked out well.”
It’s time to reassess Braves ownership
When Liberty Media finalized its stock-for-franchise purchase of the Braves from Time-Warner in May of 2007, it seemed to mark a transition. The transition was from the “sporting gentleman” days of Ted Turner, who cared deeply about winning, to the more detached corporate stewardship that marks the “investment portfolio” approach to team ownership. But are the perceptions true?
Here’s a graph charting the Braves’ payroll as a percentage of the league average payroll from 2003 through 2014. This span includes all full seasons under Liberty Media ownership (2008 onward, with estimates for 2014) and the five seasons prior to the Liberty takeover (i.e., 2003-07) …
Third Base Profile: Chris Johnson
It seems that every year I find a player that I get super bullish on and this year that player is Chris Johnson. When Yonder Alonso hears about this, I’m sure he’ll be heartbroken but I think a clean break is best and the only way to do that is to write about Johnson. Johnson has moved around a lot over the past two seasons but he seems to have found a home in Atlanta. Traded from Houston to Arizona in 2012, Johnson came to the Braves along with Justin Upton last offseason. It felt like he was kind of a throw in – someone to try and help replace the loss of Martin Prado - but he turned out to be much more. While he’s not a particularly good third baseman, Johnson showed that his bat is legit and finished the year 5th in the majors in batting average.