The Atlanta Braves are murderers. The victim? MLB free agency. An enterprise that was already on life support to being with, Frank Wren and the Braves have spent the last few weeks finishing the job. This is, of course, hyperbole, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t elements of truth here.
The Atlanta Braves have spent their days over the last few weeks locking up their boatload of young talent. Pitchers Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel each got sweet new contracts, while Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman extended their stays in ATL for seven and eight years, respectively. Jason Heyward signed for two and a longer term deal is likely on the way next winter.
What the Braves are doing isn’t new or radical. We’ve seen young stars get fat (or phat) new contracts in order to buy out some arbitration years and perhaps a free agent year or two. But we haven’t seen it on this scale: five extensions, in the neighborhood of $280 million and all of them age 25 or younger. Welcome to the new world of Major League Baseball free agency, or lack thereof.
The free agent market this year was already pretty weak. Sure, you had some marquee names like Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano, but it all boils down to overpaying for past-their-prime 30-somethings that will make the teams that sign them regret it in four or five years, if that. Getting your talent locked up now ensures that you don’t have to be that team that overpays for free agent talent when the time comes.
What the Braves are doing is almost unprecedented, simply because of the ages and experience of the players they’re locking up. It isn’t just that they’re extending young talent. They’re identifying their core, all of which have very limited service time, and signing them to significant contracts, and essentially doing it in bulk.
It’s a bold strategy, to be sure. It’s not full proof though. Things happen. If it pays off, though, we may be witnessing a revolution as far as dealing with young, high upside players is concerned. Regardless, free agency in Major League Baseball can basically be rendered dead, in terms of younger superstars being available. That underwhelming free agent class this winter? Get used to it.
It should be noted that none of this is meant to be any sort of knock on the Braves. What they’re doing is a sound business practice and ensures that their window of opportunity for a championship is going to remain open for at least the next several years.
Whether not you want to pin this death of free agency on the Atlanta Braves is entirely up to you, of course.