In an offseason in which most teams handsomely rewarded mediocrity, the Atlanta Braves chose an alternative path. And instead of chasing the likes of Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka, who signed for a combined $395 million, or re-signing Brian McCann, whom the New York Yankees eagerly gobbled up, general manager Frank Wren focused on extending the organization's burgeoning, homegrown talent.
Since the 2013 season ended, Wren extended Jason Heyward (through his remaining arbitration years), Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and most recently, Craig Kimbrel. Even Wren himself was extended within the past 24 hours, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien.
The general manager's sole dip into free agency, in fact, has just been signing ex-Chicago White Sox hurler Gavin Floyd to a one-year, $4 million deal. And Floyd, who is nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, is really just a Plan B for a rotation featuring all Braves-developed pitchers; pitchers with an average age of 25.4, too.
With an established organizational strategy in place, one has to wonder where Wren and the Braves will draw the line, if at all. Is it possible that the reigning National League East champion Braves could manage to retain most of their productive core players?
Assuming the Braves don’t begin to hand out extensions like free frozen yogurt samples, the next on the list, at least in most Braves fans’ minds, should be Andrelton Simmons.
The 24-year-old shortstop impressed fans and critics alike in 2013, garnering a whopping 6.8 bWAR in his first full year. Yet, Simmons’ elite metric wasn’t fueled by his bat. Despite swatting 17 home runs, the right-handed hitter posted a rather pedestrian .248 batting average, a park-adjusted 87 OPS+ and a 6.0 percent walk rate.
Granted, it’s also likely Simmons, whose 87.5 percent contact rate was fifth best amongst shortstops, was a bit unlucky on account of his low .247 BABIP (compared to his career .310 BABIP).
But not to worry. Even if Simmons doesn’t turn into Honus Wagner at the plate, he might be Ozzie Smith in the field. The shortstop gloved a sport-best 41 DRS over 1352.1 innings in 2013 while also taking home the Gold Glove Award too.
And as Braves first-base coach Terry Pendleton exclaimed, per Yahoo’s Jeff Passan:
The rest of us ooh and ahh about it. But I'm to the point now where when he doesn't do something I'm more surprised. And the kid's only got a year in the big leagues.
Simmons, with just 1.125 services years under his belt, is still pre-arbitration—and won’t become a free agent until 2019. But as was the case with Teheran, who notched just 1.062 service years before inking his very own six-year, $32.4 million deal, the Braves don’t seem afraid of quickly investing in their young, albeit inexperienced talent.
By comparison, below is a list of prior, pre-arbitration shortstops' extensions:
With at least five years of team control (depending on his Super 2 status), the Braves could attempt to lock up Andrelton Simmons for five or six years at around $20-35 million. Given the team’s newfound track record this offseason, if they truly want to keep Simmons, they’ll find a way. And as NY Post’s Joel Sherman reported, Frank Wren is already a step ahead.
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