On Sunday morning, the Atlanta Braves continued on the trend of tying up their talented young core by re-signing Craig Kimbrel to a four year deal worth $42 million, which takes the closer through arbitration and one year of free agent eligibility. The move was the fourth time the Braves have signed a young star to an extension this offseason — with Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Julio Teheran being the first three — and actually comes in as a bargain basement deal for the Braves.
While it is very rare that a guy who has played just over three years in MLB gets $42 million, few young players are as a established and talented as Kimbrel. Since coming up towards the end of the 2010 season, the 25 year old has been nothing sort of magnificent, appearing in 231 games and throwing 227 1/3 innings with 139 saves, 381 strikeouts, a 0.90 WHIP and a 1.39 ERA. This has earned the youngster three straight appearances in the All-Star Game, and has led to Kimbrel becoming the most automatic closer who will be on a major league roster in 2014.
Blessed with a blazing hot fastball that sits between 96 and 99 mph and a put away curveball that sits in the mid-80s, there is little reason to believe that batters are going to catch up to Kimbrel anytime soon. In fact, at 25 years old, it would appear that he will only become more dominant, as he becomes a more astute pitcher on the mound. That Kimbrel has seen his BB/9 drop from 3.74 in 2011 to 2.69 in 2013 only furthers this point, as does a drop in Fly-Ball percentage from 39.9 percent to 28.9 percent.
When looking around at other closers who are in the same range as Kimbrel’s level of play, it is clear that he could have received a much higher contract on the open market. Two closers who are currently playing on high level contracts are Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano on a two year, $28 million deal, and Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon on a four year, $50 million contract. Neither of these guys have been anywhere near the level of dominance that Kimbrel has displayed over the last three years, and there is little doubt he could have sought between $15-17 million annually in an extension.
Now, there is an obvious point to be made that Kimbrel may have not wanted to bet on his health going forward, and that taking $42 million when it is on the table is a wise decision. Still, if he is able to remain anywhere near his recent form moving forward, the Braves will have one of the best young cores in baseball tied up for the foreseeable future, and one that has decided to stay in Atlanta and play together. The rest of the National League should surely be scared.