Instead of exploring the free agent market, the Braves occupied their time during the winter by extending some, or all, of their core players. Freddie Freeman went for 8 years $135 million, Julio Teheran 6 years, $32.4 million, Craig Kimbrel for 4 years, $42 million, Andrelton Simmons 7 years $58 million, Chris Johnson for 3 years $23 million, and, to a lesser extent, Jason Heyward for 2 years $13 million. This is definitely a very solid core, but will the Braves get enough bang for their buck? Here’s a review of all the extensions, with grades attached.
-Freddie Freeman (8 years, $135 million)
This one is a no-brainer, especially for me writing in the middle of May after Freeman has absolutely destroyed National League pitching to being 2014. If he didn’t in 2013, Freeman has cemented himself as one of the premier first basemen in the game, exhibiting a great batting eye and solid defense to go along with his tremendous pop. Overall, great investment; Freeman is someone whom the Braves can expect to be the face of the franchise for years to come
-Julio Teheran (6 years, $32.4 million)
Before the season began I would have said that this signing was a big presumptuous of the Frank Wren, given Teheran’s lack of experience, but Teheran has continued to dominate, posting an unreal 1.92 ERA in ten starts. Perhaps the thing most in Teheran’s favor is his durability, as he has averaged over 6 innings pitched per start the last two years. Teheran’s strikeout rate is down, but the ground ball rate is up, meaning his stuff is doing it’s job. Don’t expect a 1.92 ERA at the end of the year, but Teheran will a steady force in the middle of a Braves rotation that has taken some hits.
-Craig Kimbrel (4 years, $42 million)
That’s a lot of money for a closer (it would make him the third highest paid closer in the game) but there has been no more dominant closer in the game over the past 3 seasons. Sub 2 ERA’s, 40+ saves, need I say more?
-Andrelton Simmons (7 years, $58 million)
Simmons is an interesting study, as he leads the NL in strikeout percentage with a mere 9.2% but still has trouble getting anything on his swings. He enters play today with a .259 batting mark, 4 homers and no stolen bases. His line drive percentage is only 12%, while he’s hitting ground balls at a rate of 50%, which begs the question: is Simmons going to hit at all? Looking at his minor league numbers, Simmons averaged only about 3 homers every 500 at bats, stealing around 30 bases. It appears that being a major leaguer has made Simmons try to do too much and hit for more power, something that has induced weaker contact, fewer stealing opportunities, hence fewer steals. If he doesn’t correct offense, Simmons’s defense will keep him from being a complete bust; however, unless you want walking highlight reel every night in front of you, a very serviceable defender can be found anywhere around baseball for a much more affordable price.
-Chris Johnson (3 years, $23 million)
By the time April came around, Frank Wren was already a little trigger-happy with the extensions. Chris Johnson represents exactly what the Braves do, and what they should be trying to avoid: he’s a free swinging, mediocre defending third baseman, whose contract doesn’t come into play until 2015 when he is 30, meaning the Braves won’t be rid of him until he is 33, assuming they don’t pick up the option year, which they won’t. Despite hitting .321 last year Johnson still only created 77 for his team, which was only 9th in the big leagues, and his isolated power was 16th in the majors. Johnson’s BABIP was an insane .394, which will regress to the mean considerably, dropping his average with it. Previous to 2013, Johnson had never hit .300 with any consistency, while flashing occasional power. Johnson will be serviceable, but 7+ million per year is expensive for serviceable.