Atlanta Braves Sign Andrelton Simmons, Secure World Series?
Andrelton Simmons was better than anticipated in 2013. Pairing elite defense with surprising pop, the Atlanta Braves rewarded their budding star with a 58-million dollar extension, locking Simmons up through the 2020 season. It was the icing on an off-season cake which saw extensions given to a core of young stars including Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran and Craig Kimbrel.
Having lived in South Florida during multiple Miami Marlins (Florida Marlins at the time) purges, extending a young core of players is cause for applause. One can nitpick the amount of money spent on Freddie Freeman (8 years, 135-million) or Craig Kimbrel (4 years, 42-million), but few would argue gaining 27-years of combined control of the Atlanta Braves core pieces for a sum total of 280-million is a poor investment.
Around Atlanta, the buzz surrounding the team has changed considerably. Sports talk hosts who questioned letting Brian McCann walk after learning about the new stadium deal are now lauding the Atlanta Braves for making difficult, but smart decisions. Baseball fans are throwing their tomahawks in the air like they just don’t care. Bring on the 2014 season, there’s a World Series to be won!
Will The Atlanta Braves Be A Better Team?
In 2013, the Atlanta Braves were beaten handily by Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers without 2011 MVP runner up Matt Kemp. This off-season, L.A. spent 32-million to secure Cuban free agent Alexander Guerrero to man second base for years to come. Plus, their signing of Dan Haren is considered one of the better moves of the off-season.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals finished off the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. And while one can argue a seven game series is won more by chance than true talent level, the “Cards” are another team the Atlanta Braves will have to contend with in 2014 and beyond. Their off-season included the addition of Jhonny Peralta at shortstop and Peter Bourjos in center field, with top prospect Kolten Wong expected to receive first crack at second base. Carlos Beltran and David Freese are no longer with the franchise, but their upper level minor league depth and core of players capable of playing multiple positions allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to reload, not rebuild.
Within their division, the Washington Nationals added another quality starter in Doug Fister and now boast four starters as good, if not better than the Braves best.
And while the Atlanta Braves should be commended for locking up its core, will the team be markedly better than last season? Jason Heyward had a pedestrian 2013 by his standards and still accumulated 3.4 wins above replacement, three less than his breakout 2012.
Freddie Freeman may have a difficult time replicating his 4.8 win season given a .371 BABIP and poor defensive metrics. As a prospect, Freeman was considered an elite first base defender. Is it possible for him to rediscover that form and insulate himself from a drop off in production if his BABIP dips?
Julio Teheran had a fantastic age-22 season, living up to the prospect hype. Is there room for continued refinement? Absolutely, but scouts have never viewed the right-hander as an “ace” or “number one” starter. A top flight two? sure, but he’ll never be a pitcher who give the Atlanta Braves an edge versus Kershaw or Adam Wainwright at the top of their game.
With Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta paid for saves. Good for them! In 227 1/3 career innings out of the pen, he’s accumulated a remarkable 9.2 wins above replacement. In three years as the Atlanta Braves primary closer, he’s saved 138 games while blowing 15. Kimbrel is the best in the business at the moment. In addition to the gaudy numbers, let’s not forget the human element as well. Knowing a game is over in the ninth inning serves as a confidence boost across the entire roster.
Andrelton Simmons is projected to match, or slightly improve upon his 4.7 win 2013. It’s easy to envision this considering Simmons’ sub-.300 on base percentage and .247 BABIP. Elite defenders like Simmons create positive ripple effect across an entire pitching staff.
Unfortunately, Steamer projections predict the sum total of wins above replacement for the five players will drop from 17.5 in 2013 to 15.6 in 2014. So while confidence in the Atlanta Braves is sky high, improvement on the field will be fueled by the other 20 players on the roster. This is a scary thought.
For every player with the hope of rebounding (B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, Brandon Beachy), there’s a player who performed at a much higher level than expected (Chris Johnson, Evan Gattis). Maybe Kris Medlen, Justin Upton and Mike Minor have one more gear, but that might be pushing it.
Without a doubt, the Atlanta Braves will contend for the National League East crown. But even with this impressive string of extensions, they haven’t really improved. I’m excited my children will grow up watching talented, homegrown players (sans Jason Heyward who’ll probably leave via free agency after the 2015 season), but they’ll have to do more than keep the core together to be more than World Series pretenders.
21 Feb 2014 / Mike Newman /
Categories: MLB Analysis
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