Another day, another contract extension for an Atlanta Braves star.
On Sunday morning, the Braves announced that reliever Craig Kimbrel — perhaps the premier closer in all of baseball — had agreed to a four-year contract (through 2017), with an option for the 2018 season.
Kimbrel (turns 26 in May) has a three-year track record of dominance with the Braves, amassing 11 wins, a 1.51 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 341 strikeouts (202.2 innings). In that supreme stand, Kimbrel also collected one National League Rookie Of The Year award and three All-Star berths.
"We are very excited to agree to terms with Craig, who we feel is the best closer in Major League Baseball," said Braves Executive Vice President and General Manager Frank Wren in a statement. "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."
Counting Kimbrel, the Braves have stealthily negotiated contract extensions with outfielder Jason Heyward, starting pitcher Julio Teheran and first baseman Freddie Freeman, who inked an eight-year, $135 million deal two weeks ago. And over the weekend, there were published reports that Atlanta’s brass was working with shortstop Andrelton Simmons, presumably on a long-term pact.
In Kimbrel’s case, the Braves have successfully sidestepped all ‘arbitration’ talk with Kimbrel, who might have commanded precedent-setting salaries — relative to closers with comparable MLB service time — minus a long-term contract.
According to the Braves, Kimbrel’s career save percentage (90.3) ranks third in MLB history among relievers with at least 150 save opportunities, trailing only Eric Gagne (91.7 percent) and former Atlanta star John Smoltz (91.1), who’s eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2015.
Smoltz also owns the Braves franchise mark for career saves (154), a record that Kimbrel (139 saves) may eclipse before the All-Star break, if healthy.
To clarify Kimbrel’s greatness in 2013: From May 9-Sept. 10, spanning 45 appearances, the Braves’ third-round pick from 2008 surrendered just one earned run and collected 35 saves in that span.