The future looks bright for the Atlanta Braves. After back to back playoff seasons, including a division title in 2013, the team returns almost intact (with the exception of veterans Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, who signed with the Yankees and Athletics, respectively) for 2014.
The Braves won 96 games in 2013 with a roster comprised mainly of young, homegrown talent. They will look to repeat this success in 2014, with one major difference: many of those young stars are now locked up for the foreseeable future.
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, who along with manager Freddy Gonzalez was given a three year contract extension by the team, has spent the last few weeks signing many of the Braves’ most valuable and promising players to long term deals.
Wren’s offseason spending spree got started in early February when, on the same day, the Braves signed both Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward to contract extensions. Freeman’s deal, the largest in franchise history, is an eight years deal reported to be worth $135 million. The 24 year old had a breakout year in 2013, leading the team with 109 RBI and finishing with 23 home runs and a .319 batting average while playing outstanding defense at first base.
Heyward, also 24, received a two year, $13.3 million extension. The right fielder, who on a gold glove in 2012, played in just 104 games in an injury plagued 2013. The Braves are obviously confident that a healthy Heyward will produce the kind of numbers he put up in 2012, when he had 27 home runs, 82 RBI, and 21 stolen bases.
Next up was 23 year old Julio Teheran. The right-hander, long one of baseballs top prospects, burst onto the scene in 2013 . After making just four major league starts prior to last season, Teheran started 30 games for the Braves, compiling a 14-8 record, a 3.20 ERA, and 170 strikeouts. He was rewarded for this strong rookie year with a 6 year, $32.4 millions contract extension. The deal also includes a team option for a seventh year.
Days after Teheran’s new deal was finalized, news broke that Craig Kimbrel had been given an extension. Signing Kimbrel to a 4 year, $42 million deal (there is also a team option for a fifth year) allowed the Braves to avoid arbitration, and locked up perhaps the game’s best closer. Kimbrel, 25, has had an incredible start to his career. In three full seasons and part of another, he has saved 139 games while posting a microscopic ERA of 1.39. He has also compiled 381 strikeouts in just 227.1 innings.
Even after signing four young stars to contract extensions, Wren still wasn’t done. On February 20, word came down that yet another core member of the the Braves had a new contract. Andrelton Simmons, who not only won a Rawlings Gold Glove award in 2013, but was also awarded a the Platinum Glove award as the best defensive player in the National League, signed a 7 year, $58 million contract. In addition to his defensive wizardry, the 24 year old also hit 17 home runs, 27 doubles, and drove in 59 runs.
All of these moves come three years before the Braves move to a new home. In 2017, the team will move from Turner Field, which is in Atlanta, to a new, $672 million stadium in neighboring Cobb County. A new ballpark always brings added revenue, which is perhaps why the Braves felt comfortable making so many moves to lock up core players.
Will all of this translate into a championship? Only time will tell. The Braves last won the World Series in 1995, and haven’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2001. But with so many key players locked up for years to come, Braves fans have something to be excited about entering 2014.