Will the Braves be able to lock up their core?

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The Braves’ winter full of arbitration cases was an indication of the problems lurking just beyond the horizon — their core of young, talented players is starting to get very expensive, and inching ever closer to free agency. The organization has been among the more thrifty in Major League Baseball lately, keeping a payroll below $100 million in each of the last five seasons. As Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes, it will be tough for the Braves to lock up their core players. Brian McCann received the Braves’ last contract extension: a six-year, $26.8 million extension signed in March 2007.

The Braves had 14 arbitration eligible players this off-season. They tendered contracts to 11 of them:

  • SP Kris Medlen, $5.8 million (second year of arbitration eligibility)
  • 3B Chris Johnson, $4.75 million (first year)
  • SP Mike Minor, $3.85 million (first year)
  • RP Jonny Venters, $1.625 million (second year)
  • RP Jordan Walden, $1.49 million (first year)
  • SP Brandon Beachy, $1.45 million (first year)
  • OF Jordan Schafer, $1.09 million (first year)
  • IF Ramiro Pena, $0.55 million (first year)

They will go to arbitration hearings with outfielder Jason Heyward (second year of arbitration eligibility), first baseman Freddie Freeman (first year), and closer Craig Kimbrel (first year). The midpoint between the salary figures submitted by the Braves and both Freeman and Heyward is around $5 million, while it’s around $7 million for Kimbrel.

The more Sabermetrically-inclined in the Braves blogosphere have suggested that the Braves should trade Kimbrel, so that would be one solution to one dilemma. Locking up Heyward, Freeman, Medlen, Minor, and Beachy will be trickier. The longer the Braves wait, the more expensive their core becomes and the more likely it becomes that they will watch their key players eventually walk away into free agency. The Braves are among the best in the business at recognizing and developing talent, but even they can’t count on consistently churning out Freemans, Minors, and Heywards to replace outgoing talent.