Why 2014 is a crucial year for the Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves have built their teams through their farm system. Many of their core players over the years have come from within, which is why they have been so successful over the years. They have done a good job in drafting and developing their own players, as well as grabbing talent from the international ranks. However, there is a strategy that should be used when calling up players from the minor leagues, and the Atlanta Braves are about to find out why having so many arbitration eligible players at the same time can change the outlook of a franchise.

Craig Kimbrel is the best closer in baseball, and there is really no competition. But how much is someone who pitches one inning really worth? Kimbrel filed for $9 million in his first time through the arbitration process, while the Braves countered with $6.55 million. They are likely to go to an arbitration hearing and Kimbrel is likely to win the case based on his track record. If Kimbrel does win and is paid $9 million in 2014, then his salaries for the next two years will only go up from there. Say he gets $9 million in 2014, $13 million in 2015, and $16 million in 2016 through arbitration. Are a mid-market team like the Braves going to keep that salary for one player who throws one inning?

Plus, the Braves payroll is consistently around $90 million. Once he starts making $13 million, which is very possible, Kimbrel himself could count for about 15% of the Braves entire payroll. It would not surprise me if 2014 is Kimbrel’s last with the Braves as I just cannot see them paying Kimbrel over $10 million a year.

Especially when they have other players to take care of, like core players Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. Not to mention a good portion of their pitching staff as well.

While many people thought that Jason Heyward would become the face of the franchise after Chipper Jones retired (including myself, admittedly), this has really become Freddie Freeman’s team. If there is anyone on this team that the Braves should sign long-term, Freeman should be their top priority.

Freeman himself also filed for arbitration for the first time in his career this off season. He filed for $5.75 million, while the Braves countered with $4.5 million. Freeman has emerged as one of the best overall first basemen in the game. The Braves need to explore signing Freeman to a long term deal before he prices himself out of their price range. He is by far the most important player to this team.

Everyone thought the world of Jason Heyward when he was coming up in the Braves system. A hometown kid who was drafted out of high school in nearby McDonough, Georgia, people thought that Heyward would become the next big star for the Braves. While he may not have lived up to expectations as of yet, he has had himself a solid start to his career. He has a 115 career OPS+, he went to the all-star game in his rookie year in 2010 and he won a gold glove in 2012. He is another player that has filed for arbitration. Heyward filed for $5.5 million while the Braves countered with $5.2 million.

Not to mention the fact that Justin Upton is a free agent in two years, so they will have to figure out a way to keep him in the fold as well.

The Braves also have a young but soon to become expensive pitching staff to keep intact. Other than Kimbrel, they have standout reliever Jonny Venters, who was one of the most dominating relievers in the game before undergoing Tommy John last season as well as Jordan Walden, who has been a steady contributor to the Braves bullpen since coming over from the Angels. Both of these guys are in their first year of arbitration.

Their rotation consists of Kris Medlen, who is in his second year of arbitration, Mike Minor, who was arbitration eligible for the first time this year as a super two player, and Brandon Beachy, who is also arbitration eligible for the first time this season. Julio Teheran will be eligible after the 2015 season, and he will likely become expensive quickly once he gets to that point.

The Braves are well known for producing their own players. Bringing them all up around the same time however, can be a costly decision in the long run. As players start to get expensive at the same time, it becomes a difficult task for a mid-market team like the Braves to determine who to hold onto and who to let go of. The Braves are finding that out right now. 2014 could be the last year that the Braves core group of players remain together.

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