Next Monday, the Atlanta Braves and their star closer Craig Kimbrel will head to arbitration to decide what Kimbrel’s salary will be for the 2014 season. Kimbrel is asking for $9 million, and the Braves have countered with an offer of just over $6.5 million. While $2.5 million may not seem like a lot more for a team to pay one of their best players, especially considering their total roster payroll is nearly $100 million, there is much more to it than just the $2.5 million.
If the arbitrator rules in favor of Kimbrel, it will strongly effect his free agent contract for next season. His 2014 salary will be the baseline for the free agent contract of Kimbrel that will begin in the 2015 season. If he wins the case and has another incredible season in 2014, his salary will get completely out of hand, making it hard to say he is worth the money.
Kimbrel is almost unarguably the best closer in the game. He has been almost un-hittable since he first pitched out of the Braves’ bullpen at the end of the 2010 season. He took over the closer role in 2011 and never looked back. Kimbrel’s career numbers are almost unheard of. In 227.1 innings pitched, Kimbrel has an incredible 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings, a minuscule 1.39 ERA and has 139 career saves. At only 25-years-old, if Kimbrel continues to dominate like this he will likely someday break Mariano Rivera‘s save record of 652 and become the greatest relief pitcher of all time.
Obviously there is a long ways to go before we start talking about that, but for now Kimbrel and the Braves wait to hear his salary for 2014. He will undoubtedly be incredible this season, but if the arbitrator gives Kimbrel his $9 million I think the Braves need to check the trade market.
The bullpen is, without a doubt, the easiest part of a baseball team to build. If he continues this pace and gets his $9 million, Kimbrel will likely command a salary of over $20 million in the near future. I do not believe that any pitcher out of the bullpen deserves that kind of money. Kimbrel has never pitched more than 77 innings in a season. A team’s closer simply does not see the field enough to command such huge percentage of their payroll.
The Braves would be smart to move on and capitalize on Kimbrel’s value while they can. He has been such a dominant player that I am sure they could get a very good return in exchange for him. The closer position is overrated and easily replaceable. Kimbrel may be the best, but he is definitely overvalued.