Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Help us Obi Frank Kenobi, You're Our Only Hope

The sky is falling, right is left, and up is down.  Yes, that means I am trying to dust this blog off for another go.  I mentioned it before here, but I enrolled to complete my bachelor’s program through online classes last fall.  First semester – done and through a few classes at a time, I am hopeful to finish up my degree next spring.  As a stay-at-home father with a second daughter due in January, why bother trying to bring this blog back?  Besides being nagged about it by a certain twitter follower, I do like the idea of my blog.  So here we are…third time’s a charm!

There has been a lot of talk about how the Braves’ offseason has been woeful.  They lost Brian McCann!  They lost Tim Hudson!  Uh, they still have Dan Uggla!  With all due respect to Gavin Floyd, their biggest move to date has been the announcement of a new ballpark in Cobb County, which I believe is where the Big Boss Man patrolled.

According to reports of an ESPN Insider article by some guy named Mike Petriello (I thought he coached the Cleveland Cavs at some point), the Braves can “salvage” this tremendously terrible offseason by signing young players to extensions.  I don’t disagree with the premise that signing young players to extensions would be useful, though the hyperbole of how bad this offseason has been is getting comical.

Signing young players to extensions is what I like to do in Out of the Park, but in real life, signing young players to extensions is as incredibly difficult as learning first base – or so Wash tells me.  A medium has to be reached between the player giving up potential money for the promise of guaranteed cash.  Meanwhile, the team is giving up whatever position of power they have to negotiate a yearly contract with a player or simply let him go with no penalties.  Now, arbitration only last three years for most players, but the pre-arbitration years are huge money savers for teams, especially when they are on a limited budget (*cough* Atlanta *cough*).  For instance, the Braves paid their two leaders in fWAR a shade over a million dollars while getting 9.5 fWAR.  That was fortunate because their two highest players gave the team a combined -0.1 fWAR while paying over $25 million.

Cheap production cannot be overstated.  However, after three years of service time, the dreaded arbitration begins.  That’s how Jason Heyward’s salary jumped over $3M in one year from the microscopic $565K to $3.65M.  This season sees the jump from basically the minimum to, in many cases, millions of dollars.  First-timers to the club include Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Jordan Schafer, and Mike Minor.  Pitchers Jordan Walden ($1.49M) and Brandon Beachy ($1.45M) have already signed as first-time arbitration guys.  So has Ramiro Pena, but I have yet to see any information.  Extending players rather than go year-to-year seems sensible, but again, it can be very difficult. Sometimes, it’s smarter to not extend.  Kimbrel has been very durable so far, but closers have a tendency to break down and fall backwards in a hurry (see Eric Gagne, B.J. Ryan).  Schafer’s a backup with not much of a career to speak of so going year-to-year with him is the right course.

But guys like Freeman and Minor are the proper targets for extension – if they are willing.  In Freeman’s case, he is coming off a breakout season in which he posted a 4.8 fWAR with 150 wRC+ and a super-sexy slash line of .319/.369/.501.  He also benefited from a .371 BABIP and might be due for a regression.  The Braves would look at Paul Goldschmidt’s extension, however Freeman would be quick to point out that Goldy’s extension was signed before his second full season, not after his third full season.  A max offer of $32M over 5 years may not work for Freeman.  However, if you take out Goldy’s first year of $1M (he would have made close to the minimum) and guarantee his optional sixth year of $14.5M, you have a new five year deal worth $43.1M with over half of that backloaded in the final two seasons.  You can even it out to possibly keep it from being too insanely backloaded, but Freeman would be covered through his three years of arbitration plus two years of free agency and could become a free agent at the age of 29 with an opportunity for at least one more multi-year contract.

Minor is a bit more difficult.  Like Freeman, he is eligible for arbitration for the first time, but unlike Freeman, Minor is a Super 2 player and will receive an extra year of arbitration.  Minor is coming off a breakthrough season where he posted a 3.37 FIP, 3.93 K/BB, and 3.4 WAR while logging over 200 innings for the first time.  Chris Sale was coming off his first year of being a starter where he posted a 4.7 WAR 2012.  Still a year from arbitration, he signed a 5-year, $32.5M contract that included a pair of option seasons.  Again taking out the first year of that contract and adding one of the optional years, we get a 5 year, $43.5M.  We can add the option $13.5M sixth season with conditional increases in the option’s worth depending on Cy Young votes.  I’m tempted to lower the overall value of this contract, but four years of arbitration can be awfully expensive.  Minor would be older than Freeman at the end of this contract (either 31 or 32) and might prefer a shorter extension to hit free agency with the chance to get a second big multi-year contract.

To review...

2014 – Freeman ($3M), Minor ($3.5M)
2015 – Freeman ($5.75M), Minor ($6M)
2016 – Freeman ($8.75M), Minor ($9.15M)
2017 – Freeman ($11M), Minor ($12M)
2018 – Freeman ($14.5M), Minor ($12.5M)
2019 – Minor ($13.5M) team option with conditional bonuses

The Braves currently have only one person signed after 2015.  Getting these two figured out allows the Braves to look at other extension candidates (Heyward, Medlen, Andrelton Simmons, and Justin Upton).   It doesn’t seem likely that the Braves will keep all of these young guys – they do expensive rather quick – but making smart signings to keep the cornerstones would go a long way to planning the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment