By Shawn Stinson
March 3, 2014
The Atlanta Braves will not be confused with big-time spenders like the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox, but the team opened its checkbook this spring.
And did so in a very big way, signing five key components to contracts worth just under $281 million.
Those players — Freedie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran — have the average age of 24. This means the Braves won’t have to worry about trying to compete on the open market to keep these players when they hit their prime.
Instead, general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez can focus on surrounding them with additional talent to compete not only for division titles, but World Series rings as well.
Unlike some teams which are only concerned with the “right here, right now” approach, the Braves are looking at the long-term.
Wren was building towards this plan when he added outfielders B.J. Upton and Justin Upton to the team last season. The pair is inked through 2017 and 2015, respectively.
This means the majority of Atlanta’s everyday starters are signed through next year and will get the horrible contract of second baseman Dan Uggla off the books after the 2015 season. That is unless some team is crazy enough to want Uggla before then.
Depending on who Gonzalez picks to replace Brian McCann behind the plate, the Braves may have seven starters under the age of 30 on opening day. The only one older than 30 is Uggla and expect the leash to be short if he gets off to another poor start.
The only player not under a contract beyond this year in the starting lineup for Atlanta is third baseman Chris Johnson, who replaced future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones last season. Wren could elect to let Johnson walk if there is a prospect waiting in the wings or try to sign a veteran in free agency.
Wren will also have big decisions to make with his pitching rotation. Right now Teheran is the only with a guaranteed future with the team, but other starters like Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor should as well.
It shouldn’t shock anyone to see Wren sign two of the three or even all to long-term deals either during the season or in the off-season. That is the Braves way of doing things, locking up young pitchers early in their careers. Just look what John Schuerholz did with Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
And why shouldn’t Wren follow that blueprint? Wren has shown he doesn’t mind spending money on offense, but any GM knows defense and pitching wins championships.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.