Saturday, February 15, 2014

Contract Extensions Galore!

I took a few weeks off to welcome our daughter Riley into the world and the Braves suddenly become the Rays.  How strange.  John Hart joined the Braves front office this offseason so that may have something to do with it.  Hart's Cleveland Indians famously gave out a number of extensions to their young stars during the mid-90's.

Jason Heyward - 2 years, $13.3 million

There was talk awhile back that Heyward had refused an offer north of $100M from the Braves.  Whether that has much truth to it or not, inking Heyward for the next two years and buying out the rest of his arbitration was a good step between the player and organization that were not far off during their arbitration negotiations over a one-year contract.  Frank Wren's philosophy is that the Braves will continue to negotiate after the file-and-trail deadline, but only multiple year offers will be considered.  Hence, Heyward's two year pact.

As far as value goes, the Braves get plenty of that.  Over his first four seasons, Heyward has averaged over 4 fWAR per season.  Now, of course, there have been some great years (2012's 6.4 fWAR) and some not-so-great years (2011's 2.0 fWAR) season, but Heyward has clearly shown himself to be a valuable performer who combines speed and defense with a bat that is plenty capable.  However, his bat does need work if he's going to be rightfully considered a top ten player at his position (outfield, not just right field).  His career .349 wOBA ranks only 30th since the beginning of 2010 among MLB outfielders while his fWAR is tenth so his bat isn't all the way there yet.

The 24 year-old is still young enough to believe he could explode offensively.  Doing so may take him out of the Braves future plans.  Regardless, if he can avoid the freak injury and perform like he did after moving to leadoff last season, Heyward could be on the verge of a special season.  Buying out his last arbitration season could make that production bargain-level prices.

Freddie Freeman - 8 years, $135 million

There are two schools of thoughts that I have witnessed with this deal.  The first questions if Freeman was worth the investment.  The second, and it appears to be the most noticeable one, is that "OMG, the Braves paid big money!  Horray!  I'm so happy that my team locked up a guy for nine figures!"  When you subscribe to this thought process, you lose context in what the deal actually means as far as the player goes and focus more on what this means about the Braves.  I can understand that.  For an organization that has saw Brian McCann and Tim Hudson leave this offseason after not being willing to pay for Martin Prado's extension last offseason, the idea that the Braves are not only willing, but actually extending their young players is exciting.

But let's get back to the player.  Freeman broke through last season with a 4.8 fWAR, .387 wOBA, and a .319/.396/.501 slash.  While all of those numbers are very impressive, they don't touch the National League 1B royalty of Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt.  Atlanta is banking on Freeman not just repeating his 2013 production, but expanding on it.  Otherwise, the last four years of this deal (which includes 64%, or $86M) look like a monster overpay.  I'm not saying Braves fans should be concerned, but this deal carries considerable risk before you even discuss the injury factor (see Ryan Howard).

All of that said, I do expect Freeman to improve.  A month younger than Heyward, Freeman is still a few years from entering what we should expect to be his prime.  The Braves looked at Freeman's ebay page and bought now rather than wait to see how things looked later.  They paid richly for Freeman's youth, work ethic, and breakthrough season.  It's up to Freeman to make that decision look good.

Julio Teheran - 6 years, $32.4M with a 7th year option for $12M

If the Braves were banking on Freeman's youth, they were absolutely going all-in for Teheran's.  Normally, I would look at a contract that goes beyond four years with a pitcher as needless and a mistake.  However, considering the Braves simply bought out his arbitration years with one free agent year (plus the possibility of a second), I think the effort here was pretty reasonable.

Again, there is plenty of risk.  At least with waiting until arbitration, you can make sure you want to offer the player a deal the next season.  What if the Braves had given Tommy Hanson or Jair Jurrjens an extension based on the first year?  However, remember that Teheran was a monster prospect.  Just 23 years-old, Teheran was tremendous for the Braves and he didn't even have a feel for what people consider his best pitch, his changeup.  Add a devestating changeup to the argument and suddenly, Teheran goes from a pretty good pitcher to one of the game's best.

Teheran will likely only get better from here.  He showed impeccable control last season (2.18 BB/9, 3.78 K/BB), an ability to miss bats, and a fearless presence on the mound (ain't that right, Bryce?).  Early comparisons linked Teheran with Pedro Martinez.  As Braves fans, we can only hope the comparison is justified.  It feels good to know that for the next six years, possibly seven, Teheran will be terrorizing the NL East as a Brave.

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