All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel has agreed to terms with the Atlanta Braves on a new four-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration in the process.
The team made the announcement via Twitter Sunday morning:
The club noted that Kimbrel’s contract will run through the 2017 MLB season and has a fifth-year option for the 2018 campaign.
Mark Bowman of MLB.com found that the deal is worth a minimum of $42 million, with the potential to go up even more if that fifth-year option is exercised:
Per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, this is the largest deal in MLB history for a closer who has not hit free agency. He also reported that it has the potential to eclipse Jonathan Papelbon's four-year, $50 million contract that the reliever signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011:
Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report heaped praise on Braves general manager Frank Wren for locking up the 25-year-old closer and avoiding arbitration hearings.
According to ESPN, Wren is pleased that his front office was able to reach a deal with the pitcher, calling him the “best closer” in the majors:
We are very excited to agree to terms with Craig, who we feel is the best closer in Major League Baseball. He is one of the key pieces of our pitching staff and we are happy to keep him in a Braves uniform for at least four more years.
Bowman noted that Kimbrel initially did not believe an agreement would be struck, but negotiations over the past week cleared the way for this four-year arrangement:
Retaining Kimbrel was one of the main focuses of Atlanta’s offseason, as the right-hander is instrumental to the organization's sustained success. He led the National League in saves in each of the past three seasons and helped the Braves make two straight playoff appearances.
In 2013, he had 50 saves along with 98 strikeouts and a 1.21 ERA in 67 innings of work. He was named to the All-Star team for his efforts, the third straight year he earned that distinction.
Kimbrel is going to be a key cog in the Braves’ plan to return to the postseason in 2014. The club is coming off its first NL East pennant-race victory since the 2005 season, but it hasn’t won a playoff series since the 2001 National League Division Series.
With the team also locking up Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman earlier in February, securing Kimbrel is another important move.
Atlanta lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games this past October and hasn’t been to the World Series since falling to the New York Yankees in 1999.
Kimbrel may not be able bring this group back by himself, but his powerful arm coming out of the bullpen will be a major asset to the Braves’ potential championship push over the next few years.