On Craig Kimbrel and Committing to a Closer

The Atlanta Braves are in the news yet again, with yet another long term contract for a member of their young core. After already locking up Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran, the Braves have now committed $42 million to Craig Kimbrel over the next four years, buying out his three arbitration years and his first year of free agency, while also getting an option for his second FA season. Kimbrel is a dominant closer, and on a per batter faced basis, maybe the most dominant pitcher in the sport right now.

In his career, opposing batters have posted a .212 wOBA against Craig Kimbrel. That’s 40 points better than Aroldis Chapman‘s .253 wOBA against, and Chapman is probably the only guy who one might think could challenge Kimbrel for the most dominating title. Kimbrel has been essentially the perfect closer, putting up some of the best relief pitcher seasons in baseball history, since he debuted back in 2010. And yet I still wonder whether or not the Braves really needed to sign this contract.

The Braves already owned Kimbrel’s rights for 2014 through 2016, and the prices they guaranteed him for his arbitration years aren’t such a steep discount that the deal could be considered a wise investment just on the basis of maybe saving a few million dollars for the next couple of seasons. For the Braves, the value in this deal comes in buying out his 2017 and maybe his 2018 free agent years, and those seasons will now $13 million apiece. That’s a season or two extra that they wouldn’t have been able to control without giving him a long term deal that pushed into his 30s, so even if the salary portion doesn’t look so great, there’s a benefit to adding just one or two seasons extra rather than having to commit to another three or four years after his arbitration seasons are up.

But how likely is it that the Braves will still want to pay Kimbrel $13 million four years from now? It’s no secret that the shelf life of relief pitchers is shorter than players at other positions, and Kimbrel would hardly be the first dominant reliever to show up, dominate for a while, and then hang around as a shell of what he once was. Can we really forecast, right now, that Kimbrel will still be one of the best relievers in baseball in 2017?

For reference, here is a list of every pitcher who posted a +3 WAR season out of the bullpen from 2000 to 2009.

Season Name IP BB% K% HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA- FIP- WAR RA9-WAR
2003 Eric Gagne 82.1 5% 36% 0.22 0.243 84% 51 44 4.4 3.5
2004 Francisco Rodriguez 84.0 10% 37% 0.21 0.278 78% 41 39 3.8 3.5
2004 Brad Lidge 94.2 8% 43% 0.76 0.292 88% 44 43 3.6 4.2
2007 Rafael Betancourt 79.1 3% 28% 0.45 0.240 86% 33 52 3.5 4.5
2006 J.J. Putz 78.1 4% 34% 0.46 0.306 79% 52 40 3.4 3.3
2006 Jonathan Papelbon 68.1 5% 29% 0.40 0.224 92% 20 46 3.4 4.8
2004 B.J. Ryan 87.0 10% 34% 0.41 0.302 81% 50 48 3.3 3.3
2002 Eric Gagne 82.1 7% 45% 0.66 0.278 85% 30 20 3.3 4.3
2008 Mariano Rivera 70.2 4% 27% 0.51 0.218 88% 53 53 3.3 3.2
2004 Eric Gagne 82.1 7% 35% 0.55 0.267 77% 53 47 3.2 2.8
2000 Gabe White 84.0 5% 26% 0.64 0.262 80% 42 47 3.2 3.8
2004 Joe Nathan 72.1 6% 36% 0.37 0.269 86% 35 39 3.2 3.5
2006 Joe Nathan 68.1 8% 31% 0.40 0.238 85% 35 49 3.2 3.9
2001 Mariano Rivera 80.2 6% 26% 0.56 0.268 75% 32 51 3.2 3.6
2001 Octavio Dotel 84.0 10% 38% 0.32 0.301 80% 43 37 3.1 3.0
2002 Robb Nen 73.2 7% 27% 0.24 0.315 80% 56 48 3.1 2.9
2006 Takashi Saito 78.1 8% 35% 0.34 0.268 79% 47 42 3.1 3.1
2008 Jonathan Papelbon 69.1 3% 28% 0.52 0.293 70% 52 45 3.0 2.1
2005 Mariano Rivera 78.1 2% 30% 0.23 0.238 78% 32 47 3.0 4.2

19 pitcher seasons, but only 13 pitchers, as guys like Gagne, Rivera, and Papelbon all had multiple +3 WAR seasons during the first decade of the 21st century. So let’s look at those 13 guys, and see how effective they were in their fourth season after the year indicated above, to see how well they were able to sustain their dominance over the long term. In chronological order:

Gabe White, 2004: 60 IP, -0.4 WAR, -1.3 RA9/WAR

White’s 2000 season looks like one of the great flukes in baseball history, as he accumulated 75% of his career WAR total in that one season. He’d been pretty mediocre to that point, and then returned to mediocrity immediately afterwards, posting a below replacement level season in 2001. He did have one more solid season in 2002, but but he was out of baseball by 2005. A one year spike guy is probably not a great comparison for Kimbrel, but White is a nice reminder that even mediocre pitchers can look amazing for 70 or 80 innings.

Octavio Dotel, 2005: 15 IP, +0.0 WAR, +0.5 RA9-WAR

Dotel followed up his terrific 2001 season with another great year in 2002 and then two solid years in 2003/2004, remaining of the game’s best relief arms for three years after his best season. But then he got hurt, only pitching a combined 25 innings in 2005 and 2006, and eventually returned as a good-not-great setup guy who had value but wasn’t what he was before.

Mariano Rivera, 2005: 78 IP, +3.0 WAR, +3.6 RA9-WAR

You don’t need much information here. Mo was consistently amazing, year in and year out, and could probably still be one of the best closers in baseball today. The ultimate example of a closer having a long, successful career.

Eric Gagne, 2006: 2 IP, +0.0 WAR, +0.0 RA9-WAR

Gagne is the closest thing we have to a match for Kimbrel, as he destroyed opposing hitters from 2002-2004, posting +3 WAR seasons in each of those three years. And then he fell apart in 2005, missed almost the entire 2006 season, and had only a brief and moderately successful return to the majors in 2007. Perhaps Gagne’s previous work as a starter caught up to him, or his workloads as a reliever finally were too much, but Gagne is the yin to Rivera’s yang, and is a reminder of the risk of betting big on even the very best relievers.

Robb Nen, 2006: Forcibly retired by injury

Nen’s last pitch of his dominant 2002 season turned out to be his last. He tried to help the Giants win a World Series with an arm that needed surgery, and it ended his career. He finally retired in 2005 after several years of rehab.

Joe Nathan, 2008: 68 IP, +2.0 WAR, +3.6 RA9-WAR

Nathan had a great six year run as a dominant closer for the Twins, and is a template for how this deal could work out well for Atlanta. He was still nearly as good in 2008 as he was in 2004, and then continued to pitch well in 2009 as well. Even after an injury in 2010, he’s still pitching well, and hasn’t yet succumbed to age or injuries.

Francisco Rodriguez, 2008: 68 IP, +1.7 WAR, +2.7 RA9-WAR

Rodriguez is often used as a comparison for Kimbrel because he was so good at such a young age, posting his +3 WAR season at age-22, and then establishing himself as a dominant closer in his early-to-mid 20s. By the time he got near free agency, he had declined to good reliever instead of a great one, so the Angels wisely let him go. While he’s never totally imploded, his late-20s and early-30s have been nothing like what he was in his younger days.

Brad Lidge, 2008: 69 IP, +2.2 WAR, +2.7 RA9-WAR

Lidge was up-and-down after his monster 2004 season, mixing in a couple of great years with a couple of mediocre ones, though 2008 was again one of his better seasons, and he provided a lot of value for the Phillies in his first year there. From there, though, it was mostly downhill, and Lidge’s contract with the Phillies proved to be a mistake.

B.J. Ryan, 2008: 59 IP, +0.9 WAR, +1.5 RA9-WAR

Ryan followed up his dominant 2004 season with two more great years before blowing out his arm. He was good but not great in his return, and that only lasted a year, as he was out of baseball after 2009. He had a great three or four year run, but that’s essentially what his career amounted to.

Jonathan Papelbon, 2010: +1.2 WAR, +0.4 RA9-WAR

Papelbon was excellent for almost his entire tenure in Boston, and sustained most of his success for the next three years after his dominant 2006 season. 2010 was a down year, but he bounced back with a great 2011 season, and while the Phillies certanily overpaid him, he’s a check mark in the positive category for Kimbrel, as he’s been pretty consistently good ever since his debut.

Takashi Saito, 2010: 54 IP, +1.4 WAR, +0.8 RA9-WAR

Saito never repeated his remarkable rookie season, but then again, he was 36 when he came over to the U.S., so this isn’t really much of a comparison for Kimbrel, and I don’t think we can say too much about the fact that he had turned into just a good setup man at age-40.

J.J. Putz, 2010: 54 IP, +1.4 WAR, +1.3 RA9-WAR

Putz broke out in a huge way in 2006, learning a split-finger fastball from Eddie Guardado and riding that pitch to becoming one of the game’s best closers. He repeated his dominance in 2007, but then lost velocity and effectiveness and spent a couple of years as a mediocre reliever. The White Sox fixed him up in 2010 and he’s been a quality closer ever since, though not without a few bumps in the road.

Rafael Betancourt, 2011: 62 IP, +1.8 WAR, +1.5 RA9-WAR

Betancourt’s monster season with the Indians in 2007 didn’t carry over into 2008, as he was nearly a replacement level reliever in the season immediately after his breakout. However, he rebounded nicely and returned to excellence in Colorado, consistently providing value out of the Rockies bullpen.

Of the 13 pitchers on the list, three went on to have sustained success over a long period that would easily have justified a similar deal to what the Braves just gave Kimbrel. If he follows in the path of Rivera, Nathan, or Papelbon, this will turn out just fine for Atlanta.

The other 10 names are a pretty big mixed bag, though. There are some pitchers who were still productive four years out from their +3 WAR season, but many of them didn’t do so well in between, and going year to year likely would have been cheaper than buying out their next four years with a long term deal. For these 10, I think the general consensus would be that a long term deal in the immediate aftermath of their +3 WAR season wouldn’t have worked out that well for the team overall.

However, it must be noted that Kimbrel’s track record is far superior to the ones we’re looking at here. He’s not Gabe White, a career mediocrity who had one great year. Even guys like K-Rod or Lidge weren’t as good as Kimbrel is now. Kimbrel has further to fall than the rest, and could decline a lot while still remaining an excellent pitcher. In that way, he’s not that different from Papelbon, who is worse than he was but still quite good.

Is this a risk for the Braves? Absolutely, and I’m not entirely sure that the upside of potentially having him around for one or two extra seasons at $13 million per year is worth the extra money they guaranteed him going forward, but it should also be clear that this isn’t an obvious mistake. As much as relievers are fickle, a significant portion do sustain success for long periods of time, and Kimbrel is good enough that he can get worse and still be worth $13 million in 2017 dollars.

Like the Freeman deal, there’s an argument to be made that perhaps this deal costs Atlanta too much without providing a ton of upside, but like the Freeman deal, the Braves have ensured that they get to keep a high quality talent through his 20s without having to commit to his 30s. Every long term deal has a risk, but the Braves are taking risks on player’s prime years, and that’s a strategy I can’t argue against too strongly.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


91 Responses to “On Craig Kimbrel and Committing to a Closer”

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  1. semperty says:

    If I were Heyward, I’d be so pissed right now. You came up around the same time as the other three with extensions, and you were the only one they didn’t lock up.

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    • semperty says:

      Granted, we don’t know what offers might’ve been made for the longterm, it seems that the Braves gave player friendly deals to Teheran, Freeman, and Kimbrel, and then shafted Heyward.

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      • Gus says:

        It’s the second year in a row ATL has sat down with his agents to work something out and have been told Heyward wants to wait and build his value. Dude wants to get paid. You can’t lock someone up if they think it’s in their best interest to hit free agency.

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    • RMD says:

      Heyward did the right thing. He’s going to make more than Freeman once he has two great years (that won’t be altered by an appendectomy)and reaches the open market.

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      • awalnoha says:

        Yeah, I think Francoeur thought too. Hello the new Brian McCann, Freeman, to Heywards Francoeur.

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        • RMD says:

          Francoeur is a guy who asked “why OBP isn’t on the scoreboard if it’s so important”… when it was displayed at Turner Field during his entire tenure.

          Heyward is a guy with two Ivy League parents that didn’t want to sell himself short.

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        • Bronnt says:

          Jason Heyward produced more value by the end of his age 21 season than Jeff Francoeur has in his entire career to date.

          There might be a tiny flaw in your comparison.

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    • cavebird says:

      From everything I read, the Braves approached Heyward about a long-term extension, but they were very far apart in the numbers. I imagine it comes down to years—Heyward hits free agency at such a young age he can get a huge long-term guarantee then, while the benefit to the Braves for an extension now is not having to pay for the seasons over age 30 or so. Heyward probably wanted either more years or more per year to make up for the less years than he would get as a free agent, and things broke down at that point.

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    • jim says:

      Why would he be pissed? He’s got guaranteed money as a 24 and 25 year old, and could very well outearn Freeman and Kimbrel combined when he hits free agency. Sounds like an all right deal to me.

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    • ABravesFan says:

      I’m pretty certain that a comparable deal to Freeman’s must have been offered to Heyward but he opted to reject it. From Heyward’s point of view, freak injury has prevented him from truly breaking out (at least with the bat), if he believes in his own ability (which I am sure he is), it is a worthy gamble for him to just sign for two years now and wait for a huge payday as a Free Agent.

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    • elliwg6 says:

      All of these deals started to snowball AFTER Heyward received a 2 year extension. The Braves made him a priority. Once they realized he couldn’t be signed long term, or at least not at a price they could afford they moved on to Freeman and others.

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    • They tried. But he apparently wanted to be paid based on what he might have done had he stayed healthy over the last few years, not what he’s actually done.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Which is not unreasonable, since his recent injuries have been of the freak variety and teams tend to take the position that they want to pay for what a guy will do, not what he has done.

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  2. Kogoruhn says:

    I miss Robb Nen

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  3. somedude says:

    Could committing to this contract keep the Braves from being able to keep Jason Heyward as he gets closer to Free Agency?

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    • Michael says:

      The Braves have bought out the remainder of Heyward’s arbitration years at a team friendly price. I suspect, that if the Braves have any hope of Making a long term offer that is both affordable to the Braves and reasonable for a player of Heyward’s talents, it will have to come after Uggla’s deal is off the books.

      The Braves are clearing salary in a couple of years. I’m assuming the strategy is to make a run at a long-term contract with Jason at that time.

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      • someguy says:

        Justin Upton’s deal is also up in 2 years. The Braves will certainly not be able to pay 3 outfielders 15MM+. One of them will have to go, especially when the closer is making 10 mil.

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      • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

        Correct, it looks like the Braves could work him in starting in 2017, but I don’t think they have the budget to pay for 2016. The payroll figures to take a bit of a leap with the new stadium coming in 2017, and just maybe, Liberty Media will bump it up a year earlier to keep some guys around. But Heyward and his agents aren’t naive to the fact that he will be a HUGE commodity hitting the market at 26, and if he has two healthy seasons under his current deal, he could potentially get a deal for more than $200MM, conservatively. The Braves MIGHT be able to handle that, excluding 2016, but I think it will just be too hard for them to pull the trigger on a commitment that big.

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        • Mike says:

          Heyward will almost certainly eclipse 200 million, barring some collapse in the next two years. He can get that simply by doing what he’s done the last few years and staying reasonably healthy. If he improves/has big years in the next two, we’re talking numbers that will approach the most lucrative in history. Very few guys hit free agency at his age and skillset.

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        • Eric Feczko says:

          @Mike:

          Ummm…what?

          Jason Heyward has been up and down in the last few seasons, totaling 12 WAR (11.8 fWAR) in three seasons, 6.4 of which came in 2012 (2 in 2011, and 3.4 last year). First, there’s a good chance that he’ll improve on that trend over the next two seasons (steamer has him at 4.8 WAR projected for this season). If he “does what he’s been doing the last few years”, however, I’m not so sure some team will dole out a 10-year 20mil/year contract.

          Second, I doubt his contract will reach the most lucrative in history even if he meets his projected 5 WAR per year. Don’t get me wrong, he will be extremely valuable as a 26 (27?) year old player, but I don’t see a team shelling out a 10 yr/240 mil contract for said player.

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  4. LONNIE says:

    The problem with the Freeman deal is that in 2 years when Justin Upton and Heyward become free-agents they will want a deal like Freeman that will pay them 20 plus million a year. I don’t see the Braves giving that to either player.

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    • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

      I think one of Heyward or Upton will stay around, depending on which one hurts their value more in the next two years. If Heyward misses time with injuries, or if Upton stays closer to his 2013 self rather than his 2011 self, I think one of them will price their way into the Braves’ range.

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  5. larry says:

    i think another benefit to this deal that the article does not mention is avoiding Kimbrel’s arbitration hearing, which was schedule for today. If Kimbrel would have won, filed at $9mil, and continued his dominant way, the Braves couldve been on the hook for $40 mil ($9 mil this year, $13.5 next, and $18 in the final year using the 40/60/80 rule)anyways. At least now they know how much he will cost.

    Plus all the other MLB teams benefit by not have Kimbrel break the arb process as well.

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    • NS says:

      I see this analysis all the time, as if it is capturing a complete picture of the alternate scenario. But it incorporates no element of performance risk at all, which is perhaps the most significant factor.

      Yes, they could have been “on the hook” for $40M through arbitration. But only if Kimbrel continued breaking records with his performance.

      But they are able to evaluate that on a year-to-year basis in the arbitration example. And really, they could even be pickier than that. Not only could they trade him or decline to offer arbitration, arbitration contracts are not guaranteed. They would have several options.

      Then there’s the other scenarios themselves. He could get worse. It doesn’t take much for a reliever to have an off-year. He could also get injured. It doesn’t take much for any pitcher like Kimbrel to go down.

      If any of those things happen, they are not paying anywhere near those prices in arbitration. Really, the only scenario they pay those prices is the best-case scenario. And in that case, if he’s that good, they are unlikely to care a whole lot about having to pay that much.

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      • larry says:

        yes, I agree with you up until the last paragraph. there are a lot of scenarios in which the deal does not benefit the team. But there is no way the Braves could afford Kimbrel if he won arb this year and continued to set new arb records each year moving forward. There was a distinct possibility that that could have happened and the Braves were able to avoid that risk with this deal. The article discussed a lot of the other possibilities but left off what I see as a potential benefit to signing Kimbrel now.

        I think its pretty obvious that the Braves are betting on their young players to continue to improve, or in Kimbrel’s case maintain, their level of production.

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      • bjsworld says:

        The only way the Braves could reasonably retain him was for him to be a dominant pitcher. If he would have won, Kimbrel would have been in line for $30M over the next three years. That’s even if he suffers major regression. The guy isn’t taking a pay cut in arbitration. Their choice is to pay $10M+/season or let him walk and lose team control.

        If Kimbrel would have continued as even a solid closer (think 3 ERA with 30+ saves) he would have been in line for much more than $30M over the next three years.

        This was a smart move for the Braves. I think they would have lost today. They definitely want to keep him in the fold. And even if they do want to move him I’m sure someone would gladly take him at $10-$13M. Remember, Johnson was moved at the beginning of the off-season with a $10M contract and the guy is nowhere close to Kimbrel.

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        • NS says:

          If he’s injured or suffers *major* regression, he isn’t worth $10M and they simply do not offer arbitration.

          If you’re going to take a massive, questionable risk on a closer, you do it with Kimbrel. It’s defensible. But it’s still a big risk – especially for a team like Atlanta.

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  6. Baltar says:

    This is a very well-researched and thoughtful post, Dave.
    I would have liked this deal better for the teams that have money to burn. Atlanta, however, is stuck with that long-term TV deal and may soon be one of the poorest teams. Extending multiple players may eat up far more of their budget in the future than they will be able to afford.

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    • ABravesFan says:

      On the other hand, giving out these extensions is a positive sign that the team is projecting more money to spend on payroll with the new ballpark (and potential sell of the team to someone who actually cares).

      Logically, I am fine with the extensions to Freeman and Kimbrel while love the one to Teheran. As a Braves fan, I love the spending for emotional reasons.

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      • Eric Feczko says:

        I’d be extremely wooried about the new stadium if I were a Braves fan.

        The new ballpark isn’t set to open until 2017. Worse, during the next four years, the Braves are sinking half a billion dollars into the construction of the stadium and the expansion of the area surrounding the stadium.

        On top of that, the new stadium will have less parking spaces and less seating that Turner Field. The location for the stadium is in one of the worst traffic problems in the city (75/285 intersection), while being 10 miles away from any public transportation (i.e. MARTA).

        The only advantage of the new ballpark is that they are in the middle of one of the richest counties in Georgia. Perhaps they will jack up the ticket/food prices to recoup their expenses, but this move makes little sense.

        Simply put,

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        • Eric Feczko says:

          ugh…that was poorly formatted.

          Simply put, the Liberty’s recent investment may reduce the market value for the Braves to something less than the Nationals.

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        • Anon21 says:

          I don’t know why fans should necessarily worry or care about the money the Braves are putting up for construction of the new stadium and surrounding environs. There’s no particular reason the think that money is coming from the baseball operations division. A large organization like the Braves very likely had some kind of stadium sinking fund established, and they will probably direct certain funds that would otherwise have been earmarked for deferred maintenance or upgrades to Turner Field towards construction of the new complex.

          I don’t really disagree about the transportation problems with the new site. My hope is that their attendance situation doesn’t further deteriorate.

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        • Eric Feczko says:

          @Anon:

          You are right that the investment is probably not from the Braves themselves, Liberty media (who owns the Braves) has a net income of nearly 2 Billion; it could let the Braves operate at a loss and it wouldn’t dent their profit margins.

          That being said, I don’t see any reason to suspect that this venture would increase revenue for the baseball division itself. The more I think about it, the more I suspect it as a way to increase the amount of real estate holdings for Liberty Media. If so, there’s no reason to suspect that the Braves’ success is critical to such a strategy, and therefore, no reason to think the payroll would increase beyond inflation.

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  7. Matthew Murphy says:

    The hidden value for the Braves lies in the arbitration savings. Even if the Braves won the arbitration case this year, they’d have paid him around $29M, and if they lost, that number goes up to around $36M. Instead, they’re essentially guaranteeing him $28M for the Arb years, plus a reported $3.5M in incentives which would bring the total to $31.5M (pushing all incentives to Arb years for simplicity). Since arbitration cases are mostly a toss-up, the average expected cost for Kimbrel’s Arb years would be $32.5M, but you have to imagine that one of the reasons the Braves made this deal was because they felt Kimbrel would have a strong case in arbitration.

    So what the extension really means is that the Braves took on additional risk by guaranteeing Kimbrel’s high salary for the next three years plus a FA year around market rate (effectively $14M), and in return saved a few million (maybe more) in arbitration costs, and get the team option at a reasonable $12M. I think it’s a pretty fair tradeoff.

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    • Matthew Murphy says:

      (Numbers used here were from Matt Swartz in a post on MLB trade rumors this morning – http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2014/02/how-much-would-kimbrel-have-earned-in-arbitration.html)

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    • NS says:

      All it would take is a single off-year or injured season to derail the richest-case-scenario in arbitration people talk about. No matter how incredible he is, we simply can’t say it’s *likely* that a reliever will continue for the next three years to do what has never been done before.

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      • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

        But we CAN say that Kimbrel is the *most* likely to do it. His level is just unprecedented.

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      • Matthew Murphy says:

        Also, arbitration salaries rarely decrease, so if Kimbrel had won $9M, then had a mediocre year where he got hurt and missed half the season, he might still get awarded $10M the following year. If he won this year, he would almost certainly make more during his arbitration years than the $28M he’s getting in the current contract.

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        • Rob says:

          I believe there are actually rules in the CBA that directly address this. I want to say players are guaranteed at least a 10% raise over the previous season through arbitration, but that could be completely wrong. Regardless, Kimbrel was in line for well over 30+ million through arbitration if he won this year unless the Braves for some reason decided to non-tender him.

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    • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

      There’s also a good bit of value in the options. Teheran and Kimbrel both have $1MM buyouts, which is extremely helpful. If the Braves pick up those options, then the dollar amounts probably won’t be important, as they will have proven they’re worth it.

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  8. Dan says:

    The interesting thing about this deal to me? It implies the Braves will have A LOT more money coming in when the new stadium opens. Maybe they think they can bump payroll to the $135-$150mm range once they are in the new park. Paying $13mm for a closer is not palatable at a $100mm payroll, but it is different if you can spend $150mm. Even if this isn’t a great use of resources, it’s a lot better than being forced to trade Kimbrel if he had won his arb hearing at $9mm for 2014.

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    • someguy says:

      I don’t think you can make this conclusion. Its hard to see a payroll that size with the pathetic TV deal that the Braves are stuck with even with a new stadium.

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      • larry says:

        while it is a lot of money to pay a closer, the Braves can still put together a relatively cheap bullpen overall. the rest of the guys are either pre arb or arb guys making less than $2mil.

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      • Roger says:

        Stadium alone? No. A new stadium plus rent owning the surrounding commercial development? Maybe.

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      • Roger says:

        It also makes me wonder if Liberty Media expects to sell the team in 3-4 years. Lock up the stars, give some hope of revenue with the new stadium and adjacent development, and then let some other sucker worry about whether it’s actually profitable.

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        • Snowman says:

          If Liberty were preparing for a sale, they’d be slashing payroll. You get more for an asset when you have less debt, and guaranteed contracts are counted in the debt category.

          I’m not certain everyone is correct, though, in assuming these extensions mean a payroll bump is on the way. Their 2014 payroll is going to be very, very close to their 2013 payroll, barring a big addition or subtraction between now and opening day. With the way these deals are backloaded, the real money will kick in right after Justin Upton and Jason Heyward go elsewhere in about two years, and then they could simply go cheap with the rest of the roster and still keep the payroll the same. With Liberty, this is not an impossibility.

          We’ll just have to wait and see.

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        • ValueArb says:

          That’s just an example of how poorly the best relievers are used today. Kimbrel was used before the 9th once last year, over 60% of the time he pitches with the bases empty.

          Now that he has long term security, they should start using him in higher leverage situations in the 6th and 7th with baserunners on in tight game.

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      • Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

        There have already been some indications that the payroll will go up to about $135MM, and possibly more depending on the success of the businesses surrounding the park. I also remember reading that they’ll get some help in terms of naming rights revenue, another area where they’re far behind other clubs.

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        • Eric Feczko says:

          I’ve seen no indications that the Braves payroll will increase to 135-150 million. Where are you getting this information from?

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    • McDoozle says:

      I assume they’re counting on money from the stadium and planning to spend some of the extra $20+ million everyone’s receiving from the new TV deal. I still think I would rather have kept him for the next year or two and then either moved him or declined his arbitration if it got too expensive.

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  9. zimmerman says:

    How was Lidge deal a mistake? He never blew a save all year. He was big cog in getting them over the hump to win WS. If he accounts for 3 wins then the Mets may have won division and Brewers would still have been the WC.

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  10. zimmerman says:

    Thanks “someguy” for that response. Sorry Dave.

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  11. Derek says:

    I guess my question is with the value of a win. I seem to remember that it has been discussed as $6m/win in various posts here. If so, doesn’t that mean that Kimbrel only has to provide 7 WAR over the next 4 years? I admit to not being as deeply involved in advanced stats, but <2 WAR/ season for the 4 years is some built in regression, or is my interpretation a bit off? Even with the 5th year, still <2 WAR/season. Of course it's risky, Kimbrel is A. a pitcher B. a reliever. and C. I remember Mark Wohlers.

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  12. McDoozle says:

    One thing about this deal that seems to be overlooked is the Braves choice of priorities. For a team that operates on a a fairly tight budget, spending $10 million a year on a closer is questionable. Is Kimbrel, in a vacuum, worth the money? Absolutely, and he makes perfect sense to me for higher spending clubs.

    But for Atlanta, who is going to spend around $100 million for the foreseeable future, that’s a big chunk of their salary. Considering the depth they already have in their bullpen and the relative ease with which a team can find young, cheap bullpen arms, this seems like a bad deal for them.

    With an iffy rotation, BJ Upton and Dan Uggla on their roster, that $10 million probably could have netted some depth to offset the likelihood of problems in those areas.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Their rotation is fairly deep though. Just no ace yet. I completely understand the ugglA and bi concerns. I’m honestly surprised they made the playoffs last year

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      • Snowman says:

        One really can’t list questionable roster expenditures without mentioning Jonny Venters. I know the money is much smaller, but giving $1.625 million to one of the most obvious nontenders ever was just such a weird waste of cash.

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  13. Antonio Bananas says:

    I think it’s a fair deal. 10M plus for any pitcher to throw 60-80 mostly low leverage innings is steep though. The market overpays for closers. I think Atlanta saves in arbitration and I’d guess that Kimbrel would have become the highest paid closer in history on e he hit FA assuming he stayed dominant. Cost savings for ATL based on how the market values Kimbrel, but the market overvalues Kimbrel. ATL could have raped someone of their farm with him and been better off IMO

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    • larry says:

      I think this deal could actually make Kimbrel easier to trade. Other teams now know exactly what he will cost, instead of worrying about ever increasing arb salaries. Plus a lot more teams can afford a $13 mil than an $18 or $20 mil closer, which is where he couldve ended up by his 3rd year of arb.

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    • jim says:

      Kimbrel entered games in the 13th-highest leverage of all relievers in 2013, 7th-highest in 2012, and 13th again in 2011, and is 3rd collectively in the overall period of 2011-13. He’s hardly throwing garbage innings.

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      • jim says:

        And that’s out of 130+ qualified relievers every year

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        My mistake on the low leverage. I was just thinking anecdotally about how closers come on with a clean inning and a lead and will mathematically have to face the heart of the oppositions order less than half the time.

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        • Larry, at what point do you trade him? I agree with you btw

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        • larry says:

          assuming health and continued production (its a lot to assume but you have to start somewhere), I wouldn’t mind seeing the Braves hold onto him for the duration of the contract but I also think it would be smart to trade him after 2016. That leaves 1 year of team control and a team option left (both $13 mil). That way you can still get some good prospects in return bc he is more than just a year or half year rental

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  14. Oh God says:

    As much as I loved reading “some paragraphs about pitchers meeting an arbitrary and not particularly relevant cutoff”, I remember when Fangraphs did real analysis sometimes.

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    • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

      you have some better way to analyze this question? Care to share with us?

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      • RSF says:

        You don’t have to have your own analysis to be able to say that the approach taken in another analysis is bad. I am with oh God here when it comes to this article.

        If Dave was trying to judge Kimbrel’s likely effectiveness over the length of this contract, then analyzing only the 4th year of these players is not all that helpful.

        If Dave wanted to see how often elite relievers are still elite exactly four years later, then he is asking a question that really isn’t all that interesting and not all that informative regarding the issue of Kimbrel’s effectiveness going forward.

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        • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

          “You don’t have to have your own analysis to be able to say that the approach taken in another analysis is bad.”

          You don’t have to, but it sure helps. ‘Oh, God’ could have at least taken the time to explain what particularly he did not like (as you did). Otherwise it’s pretty much just whiny.

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        • Vince says:

          I think Dave was pretty clear that the deal assumes risk in the near-term (because the Braves are paying essentially “if he stays good” prices and can’t walk away) for the benefit of buying out a FA year and an option on another one. How is it mysterious that he would then examine the value of that 4th year? That was the Braves prize in this.

          But other than being the whole point, yeah, not really relevant.

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        • RSF says:

          Those first three years certainly matter. The fact that the Braves are paying “if he stays good prices” supports that claim. They are paying Kimbrel legit guaranteed money, when they could have instead gone year to year.

          So, if this is going to be a legitimate analysis of the contract, the first three years of all of Kimbrel’s comparables certainly need to be analyzed.

          If, however, this article is just a fun look at how releivers do exactly four years after an elite season, then the analysis is not overly interesting. And it certainly is not helpful in analyzing the deal as a whole.

          That being said, I think this is a fine contract, but this article does little to support that claim.

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    • Hank says:

      The Braves already owned Kimbrel’s rights for 2014 through 2016, and the prices they guaranteed him for his arbitration years aren’t such a steep discount that the deal could be considered a wise investment just on the basis of maybe saving a few million dollars for the next couple of seasons.

      Sadly this is now the norm for DC articles…. a bunch of handwaving and a conclusion without the actual analysis done.

      A few million in this case could be on the order of 7-10mil depending on whether Kimbrel won his hearing this year. If he got something like 9/12/15 (basically win this year and simply stay healthy this year and next); that first 13mil FA year is effectively 6mil. If he continued to perform at or close to his current pace, the 12mil/15mil arbitration estimates may be on the low end.

      This contract is basically a bet on the hearing THIS year. If he got the 9mil, the Braves would have spent WAY more than 42mil for 4 years of Kimbrel (unless he got injured). Of course this scenario doesn’t fit the conclusion so it is waved away as an aside as “maybe saving a few million”

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  15. jim says:

    Doesn’t an elite closer have extra value for teams farther down the win curve, which is increased additionally when in the postseason? So long as the Braves project as a playoff team, Kimbrel’s deal should be looked at in that light as well

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  16. bvillebaron says:

    Getting out of bed every morning is a risk. Kimbrel is easily the best closer in the game now that Mariano (the greatest ever) has retired. Maybe my math is wrong but I thought the contract was $42 million over 4 years which is $10.5 million average for 4 years. Given his age, his unprecedented level of success and the prospect that he may have been awarded $9 million in arbitration this year (thereby driving up his numbers in successive years if he continues to pitch at this level), this is a good deal for the Braves. It also sends a message to the fans that management is committed to winning for the long term.

    P.S. I am a big Heyward fan, but he has no reason to be pissed. He simply hasn’t performed to the level that Freeman and Kimbrel have.

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    • somedude says:

      Heyward: 16.5 WAR in 2170 PAs, Freeman: 7.1 WAR in 1908 PAs. Yeah Heyward is a bum.

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      • observer says:

        people who think things like “heyward isn’t as good as freeman” aren’t paying attention to things like WAR

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      • Wil says:

        Heyward gets a lot of WAR for his D and like most 1st baseman, Freeman is punished for his defense.

        Freeman is actually a better hitter/offensive player than Jason, he has a career wRC+ of 127, compared to Heyward’s 119 wRC+.

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        • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

          do you not think the 8 points of wRC+ difference is easily made up for by Heyward’s vastly superior defense at a more difficult position?

          I mean, maybe it’s not 16 vs. 7, but even if you cut Heyward’s WAR in half, he’s still more valuable than Freeman. Heyward’s just better, period.

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      • K26dp says:

        I love WAR, but until arbitrators start paying attention to WAR it is mostly irrelevant to discussions regarding arbitration-eligible contracts.

        Using traditional stats, Freeman looks better than Heyward, it makes sense that his arbitration buy-out numbers are higher than Heyward’s.

        Free agency is a whole different animal, which is why it makes sense for Heyward to hang on to his free agent years and for Freeman to get security now.

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        • jojo says:

          I don’t know the WAR numbers or anything like that but I do watch every Braves game. Freeman is a very good/ gold glove caliber first baseman. He scoops every bad through that comes his way. I would guess errors saved from poor throws is no included in the WAR calculation for first basemen. I think he is just as food defensively at his position as Hayward is at his.

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        • Tim says:

          ^jojo

          I’m going to assume you’re not a troll despite your multiple spelling/grammar errors. Your analogy doesn’t prove much. Being just as good relatively at something as someone else doesn’t mean it is given equal weight.

          If a player is as good at bunting as anyone in the league, that doesn’t mean the value of that skill is equal to a player who is as good at hitting for average and power as anyone in the league. Playing the outfield is a lot tougher than first base and should be given more weight.

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        • Jason B says:

          There were no typos. Freeman IS “just as food” as Heyward. They can both be eaten in a pinch, Donner party style (or that soccer team in the Andes, if you will).

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        • ankle explosion hr celebration says:

          Not so, Jason B! Freddie Freeman comes in at a light 225 lbs, whereas Jason Heyward is a heftier 240. Heyward is therefore more food, cannibal-style, than Freeman.

          Yet another way Heyward’s just better.

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        • JoJo says:

          Sorry for the spelling. The point I was trying to make is that I don’t think 1st basemen scoops are accounted for in WAR. I think Freddie is probably the best scooper in the league and he also is tall and stretches to save bad throws.
          I think having a good defensive first basemen is just as important as having a good defensive outfielder. Just think how many times a 1B touches the ball every game compared to a right fielder.
          WAR is a good stat but it doesnt account for everything.
          I am a fan of both Freeman and Heyward, but to say a career .259 hitter is more valuable than a career .285 hitter (who is good in the clutch), is a stretch at this point even if Freeman was a poor defensive player.

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  17. Gregory says:

    Choice of fourth season is somewhat arbitrary and an SSS, would’ve been better to look at surrounding seasons to get a better picture of what the pitcher was like later on

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  18. Jacob Jackson says:

    Johnson, and any other closer headed to free agency in the next two years, can’t be too thrilled about this. This deal sets the closer market back. Mariano was making $15M per five years ago, and game’s financial health has grown tremendously since then. Now that the best reliever in the game is giving away free agency seasons at $13M per, it becomes impossible for the A’s to make an arb offer for Johnson ($15.5M+), and it makes it highly unlikely that he or any other closer is gonna get anything close to the Papelbon contract anytime in the next 5 years.

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  19. BMarkham says:

    I think the problem with the article was that we are comparing Kimbrel to anyone who ever ONCE had a season of over 3 WAR out of the bullpen. Kimbrel not only did it twice, but has led relievers in WAR over the last 3 years, with only one other guy anywhere close to him.

    It would have been more relevant to compare him to other relievers that led the league in WAR among relievers in 3 year periods, or relievers who had around Kimbrel’s WAR in a 3 year period and how those guys did in the years afterward. And when considering Kimbrel’s age, he would be expected to fair better than that sample.

    I’m a fan of this deal. Most the people that don’t like it mostly seem to be against it because he’s a reliever. But Kimbrel is no ordinary talent. He’s not some replacement level journeyman who suddenly has a strong season out of nowhere. He’s dominated for the 3 years he’s been in the league and he’s still young.

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