After Frank Wren's masterful winter of dealing to "replace" franchise icon Chipper Jones, the time has come to shift his attention to locking up the current core of youngsters in an effort to begin a ride resembling the amazing one his current boss and Bobby Cox took Braves' faithful on throughout the 90s and early 2000s. The pieces are in place, now the tough work starts - keeping them together for an extended period of time.
As tough a pill to swallow as including Martin Prado in the deal to land Justin Upton was, moving his salary has created significant payroll flexibility for 2013, and with reports that the expected additional revenues (somewhere around $28 million) generated for each club from MLB's new national TV deal that begins in 2014 on the way, it's time to get down to business and see what kind of common ground Wren can establish with the representatives for Upton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Kris Medlen, and possibly Brian McCann as well.
Multiple sources have led Braves' "insiders" to the understanding that the somewhat flexible salary cap for 2013 was around $98 million. While things don't work in a vaccuum, for the sake of this column let's assume moving forward that the entire $28 million/year in additional revenues generated from MLB's new national TV deal will make future "caps" around $126 million. Following the Upton/Prado trade, my calculations place the current commitments roughly $10.3 million below that figure. Combine that with the additional $6.5 million created when Paul Maholm is either traded at the deadline (if Brandon Beachy returns to health on schedule) or at the end of the season when his contract is up and Wren currently has roughly $45 million to play with. If Beachy proves healthy and Medlen, Minor, and Julio Teheran take the steps forward the organization believes they will, you could conceivably add Tim Hudson's expiring $9 million commitment to that if they feel one of the other young pitching prospects (J. R. Graham, Sean Gilmartin, or Alex Wood) could capably fill the role of 5th starter next season for a total of $54 million to spend on extensions. Picking 2017 as an arbitrary date for our goal of 5 years together (if for no other reason than that's when B. J. Upton's franchise-record deal ends), here's my take on the advice I'd offer if Frank had me on his speed dial...
Using the extensions Upton and other hometown hero Brian McCann agreed to early in their careers as a template, I'd think it would be both reasonable and prudent to approach Heyward's representation first. Providing him with the significant financial certainty a 4 year $38.5 million extension would provide him in exchange for his first two free-agent seasons would seem "fair" for both sides. Following McCann's "schedule" and allowing for some inflation would point to a $2 million signing bonus with salaries of $6.5 million in 2014, $7.5 million in 2015, $9.5 million in 2016, and $13 million in 2017.
Many of the national pundits have argued that Kimbrel is one of the most valuable pieces in baseball today given his age, track-record, and status as THE current best closer in the game. Assuming Kimbrel sees a similar salary bump between his $590,000 renewal salary this season to around Heyward's $3,650,000 number this season, offer the same ladder to him - a 4 year $29 million extension with a $2 million signing bonus and salaries of $3.5 million in 2014, $6.5 million in 2015, $7.5 million in 2016 and $9.5 million in 2017.
I'd offer Freeman and Medlen the same extensions as Kimbrel. This would bring us to $25 million of the available $45 million (or $54 million) committed to those four players in 2014.
While I agree there's some risk involved in extending aging Catchers, the feeling I've gotten is that most of the players feel that McCann is going to be "that guy" that evolves into the next Chipper in the clubhouse. If he's willing to play out his current deal and test the free-agent waters following this season that's understandable, but it can't possibly be a bad idea to offer him a 4 year $25 million dollar extension with the 4th year being a vesting option based on health/ABs/games played for an additional $8 million with a $1 million buyout. That's $33 million in commitments.
I'd then approach Justin's representatives and offer a 2 year $31 million extension to his current deal with a $2 million signing bonus, which would give him the same 2016 and 2017 salaries as B. J. to hopefully eliminate any future animosity over their salaries. That's $35 million spent in 2014.
You take the additional $10 million left over and invest it to help pay for arbitration raises for the other players (Simmons, Beachy, Minor, Teheran,) and you're looking at having the entire OF, Freeman, Kimbrel, McCann, Medlen, 3 other SPs, and Simmons locked up through 2017 with Dan Uggla locked up through 2015 and his $13.25 million available to go towards paying for Justin's additional 2 seasons. If next season reveals that neither Chris Johnson or Juan Francisco provides a long-term 3B option, you still have Hudson's expiring money to go towards addressing that potential issue if it arises.
The overall future salary commitments would then look like this:
2014 - $67,450,000
2015 - $77,200,000
2016 - $70,950,000
2017 - $82,450,000
leaving plenty of "wiggle room" for renewals, arbitration raises, potential future additions at 2B and 3B, potential extensions for Simmons/Beachy/Minor, and even a little money to chase significant rotation or bullpen help via free-agency if needed.