Originally, this article was going to be about exploring what it might cost the Braves to extend Andrelton Simmons, the next logical extension candidate for the Braves. Of course Frank Wren beat me to the punch and answered my question swiftly.
So with four multi-year contract extensions, and a multi-year deal for Jason Heyward later, one might think Frank Wren (or John Hart, whoever you’d like to credit) has done more than enough this offseason. That guess might be wrong, judging from Wren’s comments following the Simmons extension.
Wren (on the many long term deals): "there will be more as we go forward because we have a good young dynamic group" #Braves
— Kevin McAlpin (@KevinMcAlpin) February 20, 2014
Of course, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Frank Wren could very well be done with extensions for this offseason, but at this rate, it’s better to get this piece off my mind before he makes another brilliant move.
Now that the core is locked up long term, there are very few who fall into the extension candidate profile left on the team. Veterans like the Upton brothers and Dan Uggla are locked up for at least two more seasons a piece, and we all know how the fans feel about two of the three. Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis are now the only projected starters without at least a multi-year guarantee, and both players are definitely a “wait and see,” especially with the presence of Christian Bethancourt.
On the other side of the coin we have the pitching featuring an already locked up Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel. A rebounding Brandon Beachy and a promising but unproven Alex Wood are both great arms, but aren’t extension candidates at this time. The rest of the bullpen, aside from a hot and cold Jordan Walden, aren’t due for a big pay and middle relievers are typically never extension candidates due to their fragility and abundance.
At 28, Medlen is the oldest of the candidates, and as a second year arbitration eligible player, the closest one to free agency. It’s no doubt Medlen has been rock solid for the Braves, but with pitching prospects such as J.R. Graham, David Hale, Lucas Sims, and Jason Hursh all being within 2 years away, should the Braves invest in their oldest starting pitcher when they have depth or invest in an area where they have little to none?
After Monday’s gut wrenching news about Minor’s offseason procedure, it may not seem like the best time to talk about extending a guy we won’t see pitch until April, but Minor is a Super-Two player, under control for what are sure to be 3 more expensive years. His years of control aside, Minor has also grown into one of the best young left-handers in the game after a breakout 2013. The same questions for Medlen can also be applied to Minor, being a part of the organizations biggest area of depth, but Minor has youth on his side (and if Jo-Jo Reyes and his 4 post-Braves organizations have anything to prove, it’s that being left-handed doesn’t hurt).
At just 24 years old, Jason Heyward still has time to blossom into the superstar he was once pegged as. Hitting free agency at 26 is going to land Heyward a large payday, and before the extensions started pouring in, I would have told you that we had no chance at signing Heyward long term. The situation already seemed to improve after Heyward agreed to a two year deal, avoiding arbitration for his remaining guaranteed years in Atlanta, but Heyward, a Georgia native, could be inclined to stay if he finds comfort working with the core of Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, and Julio Teheran that Frank Wren has assembled for at least the next 4 seasons. I’m sure it won’t be cheap, but Heyward could be open to an extended stay in a Braves uniform.
It is my belief that Jason Heyward is the candidate to choose. The Braves have little to no outfield depth, and would be losing Justin Upton in the same offseason as Heyward. While I fully believe in Mike Minor, and am one of Kris Medlen’s biggest fans, Jason is an elite player in a position the Braves could not even attempt to replace from within in 2016. Of course it takes two to tango, but this article is more about the target than the potential end game.
What Could Heyward Cost?
Heyward just watched close friend Freddie Freeman earn an 8 year/$130MM contract after two good seasons and one elite season. A series of unfortunate injuries has slowed Heyward’s career trajectory, and while that could hurt his case in negotiations, it also leaves his agent with reasons to let his client reach free agency. While Freeman has been more solid and consistent, Heyward plays a much more demanding position (very well, I might add), and is also a threat on the basepaths. Heyward’s agent will likely argue his client’s five tool skill set to have nearly the same advantages to the club as Freeman’s consistency. A consistent factor in these extensions, as Alan pointed out, is that while the Braves didn’t receive huge discount rates with their players, they also did not commit any money to any player past their age 31 seasons. Heyward would likely be in the same boat. Applying this model could set Heyward up for a 4 year, $72-80MM deal covering the 2016-19 seasons, allowing Heyward to potentially hit the open market at the ripe age of 30. A deal like this would essentially be the same as if the Braves had extended him for 6 years/$85.3-93.3MM
This all in theory of course, but I believe Heyward should be the next Brave that Wren targets for an extension. Who do you think should be next? Vote below!