As the Atlanta Braves announced a series of contract extensions over the past few weeks, I have been watching with interest. The club had typically seemed to hold back in locking down young players from their arbitration years into early free agency. That has changed with the extensions given to first baseman Freddie Freeman, starting pitcher Julio Teheran and closer Craig Kimbrel, among others.
I see all three deals as having implications to the St. Louis Cardinals, at least indirectly. I started with Kimbrel the other day and today’s subject is Freeman.
The Braves and Cardinals each internally developed a starting first baseman that has evolved into a core member of his respective team – Freeman and Allen Craig. (Yes, I know Craig is now required to play in the outfield.)
The two have a comparable amount of Major League Baseball experience, with Craig holding a slight 44-day edge. Yet the younger Freeman – by five years – has played in almost 100 more career big-league games.
The age and durability differences are clearly in Freeman’s favor. Yet, in terms of value as measured by Wins Above Replacement, WAR, Craig has been a slightly more valuable commodity over their respective careers to date.
While both players are now under long-term deals, let’s look at the differences between the two contracts. Specifically how much may the Cardinals have gained by getting their man under an extended contract a year earlier than the Braves?
Last March, the Cardinals continued their pattern of locking up key players before their arbitration years kick in. At that time, the club reached agreement with Craig on a five-year contract through the 2017 season with a club option for 2018.
28 years of age last spring, Craig will remain under contract for his prime seasons, through age 32 or 33. The deal covered his final pre-arbitration season, his three arbitration years and if the option is picked up, two of his free agent seasons.
The contract is for $31 million and could be worth $43 million if the option year is exercised.
The Braves announced their deal with Freeman on February 5. The club will fork over $135 million over eight years, through Freeman’s age 31 season.
|Arb-1||Arb1||Arb2||Arb3||Free agent 1||FA2||FA3||FA4||FA5|
|salary||6/$43 *||$12 *|
|$ in MM|
While the Cardinals paid more for their man in 2013, the aggregate difference to be spent on the two players from 2013 through 2018 is a whopping $27.5 million in St. Louis’ favor.
To reiterate, I acknowledge Freeman’s age and durability advantages. Yet are those benefits worth even close to $27.5 million?
Granted, the Braves also have Freeman for three more years, from 2019 through 2021, but at a total of $65 million in incremental cost. Maybe that will end up being to their advantage and maybe not.
In the meantime, on paper, this looks like another comparative case in which the Cardinals made a very wise investment early on.