Reds Go In on Homer; Braves Go In on Everybody

There has been a wave of moves across the majors the last couple of weeks, with some of the most noteworthy coming from Cincinnati and (especially) Atlanta in the form of big money extensions.

Most recently, the Reds locked up No. 3 starter (by most accounts) Homer Bailey through 2019 on Wednesday with a six-year, $105 million contract, allowing the sides to narrowly avoid a looming arbitration hearing.

Meanwhile, the Braves made news yet again by inking defensive stud shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year deal for $58 million. That makes the fifth 25-or-under player the Braves have worked out a deal with this offseason, and the fourth to be extended by at least four years (sorry J-Hey, but more on that later).

Let’s start with Homer.

Cincinnati Reds

The Deal

baileyHomer Bailey, 26-year-old starting pitcher: 6 years/$105 million

  • 2014 ($9 million)
  • 2015 ($10 million)\
  • 2016 ($18 million)
  • 2017 ($19 million)
  • 2018 ($21 million)
  • 2019 ($23 million)
  • 2020 ($25 million mutual option or $5 million buyout)

The Takeaway

Bailey’s deal has caught mixed reviews, with some critics pointing to his career 49-45 record and 4.25 ERA as evidence that the Reds overpaid for a “middle-of-the-road” starting pitcher.

However, and fortunately for my fanhood’s sake, the Reds don’t view the right-hander’s production from such a jaded perspective.

As General Manager Walt Jocketty pointed out during various interviews on Thursday, Bailey is a homegrown product who came through the organization as a highly-touted prospect and who has begun to show signs of ace potential over the past two seasons. Those are the kinds of guys you pay if you want your other big-name prospects to see that the club takes care of its own.

Over the past two seasons, Bailey has posted a 3.58 ERA, eclipsing 200 innings in each year. Not to mention he was just one strikeout shy of 200 last season. All of this while calling Great American Ball Park (aka the Great American Launching Pad) home. Yes, Bailey has still only posted a ho-hum 24-22 record over the last two years, but plenty of that can be laid at the feet of a struggling offense.

On top of his much-improved play in recent seasons, he quite clearly brings no-hit potential every time he takes the mound. He’s recorded two no-hitters in two years. Since Bailey’s early days in the Reds’ system, scouts have touted his impressive stuff, and now he’s starting to prove that when he’s on, he can be damn near untouchable.

All in all, the Reds are making a bet that over the next six years, Bailey will produce at a level closer to being the team’s ace than their No. 3, or even No. 4 starter, where he’s been slotted up to this point.

At least they hope he continues to improve and perform at an elite level, because starting with that jump to $18 million in 2016, he’s going to be paid like it.

The Fallout

The Reds’ deal with Bailey mostly comes down to a matter of timing. The organization hasn’t hidden the fact that signing Bailey and fellow-starter Mat Latos, also 26, to long-term deals remains their top priority in terms of contract negotiations. Bailey’s deal just so happened to be due to expire first.

There’s been a lot of talk, however, that someone currently in the Reds’ rotation has to be a loser thanks to this deal. It’s hard to disagree.

Latos and Johnny Cueto, 28, (assuming the Reds pick up his $10 million option) will be set to head for free agency following the 2015 season and it’s going to be difficult to keep both on board in Cincy following the announcement of Bailey’s deal. Let’s not forget some other funds the Reds are already committed to paying down the road:

Even with that much money tied up between two players, it’s hard to envision any scenario where Cincinnati lets Latos walk away as a free agent, which means it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cueto as the odd man out two years from now, or even sooner than that.

After missing time in the 2012 playoffs, injury problems followed Cueto into 2013, limiting him to 11 starts. However, he was impressive in those starts, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.82 ERA. If he can stay on the field going forward and puts up anything close to those types of numbers, fitting Latos and Cueto both into the budget could be a tall order. Especially since they may both demand even more money than Bailey just received.

With Tony Cingrani, 24, bursting onto the scene last season to the tune of a 2.92 ERA in 23 appearances (18 starts) and 20-year-old top prospect Robert Stephenson on the brink of breaking through and into the majors, the Reds’ front office may very well feel they have the rotation covered for the foreseeable future, even if someone currently occupying one of the top spots can’t be retained beyond 2015. That doesn’t even factor in the possibility of re-signing Mike Leake, whom it may make more sense financially to keep than Cueto, or the never-ending debate that all-star closer Aroldis Chapman should be converted to a starter.

Bailey’s $105 million deal is one that will force the Reds to make decisions down the line, but ultimately, it’s one the team had to get done. Now, on to the team that’s been on a much more frenetic signing spree…

Atlanta Braves

The Deals

freemanFreddie Freeman, 24-year-old first baseman: 8 years/$135 million\

  • Signing bonus ($2.85 million)
  • 2014 ($5.125 million)
  • 2015 ($8.5 million)
  • 2016 ($12 million)
  • 2017 ($20.5 million)
  • 2018 ($21 million)
  • 2019 ($21 million)
  • 2020 ($22 million)
  • 2021 ($22 million)

Andrelton SimmonsAndrelton Simmons, 24-year-old shortstop: 7 years/$58 million

  • Signing bonus ($1 million)
  • 2014 ($1 million)
  • 2015 ($3 million)
  • 2016 ($6 million)
  • 2017 ($8 million)
  • 2018 ($11 million)
  • 2019 ($13 million)
  • 2020 ($15 million)

052113 braves CC14

Julio Teheran, 23-year-old starting pitcher: 6 years/$32.4 million

  • Signing bonus ($1 million)
  • 2014 ($800,000)
  • 2015 ($1 million)
  • 2016 ($3.3 million)
  • 2017 ($6.3 million)
  • 2018 ($8 million)
  • 2019 ($11 million)
  • 2020 ($12 million team option)

craig-kimbrel-usp2Craig Kimbrel, 25-year-old relief pitcher: 4 years/$42 million

  • Signing bonus ($1 million)
  • 2014 ($7 million)
  • 2015 ($9 million)
  • 2016 ($11 million)
  • 2017 ($13 million)
  • 2018 ($13 million team option with $1 million buyout)

heywardJason Heyward, 24-year-old outfielder: 2 years/$13.3 million

  • Signing bonus ($1 million)
  • 2014 ($4.5 million)
  • 2015 ($7.8 million)

The Takeaway

The Braves have been handing out contract extensions like teeball trophies the last few weeks, but it’s tough to point to any of the deals they’ve pulled off and say they might regret it down the line.

Everyone knows Atlanta has a strong young core of talent to build around, and general manager Frank Wren is making it clear that he intends to keep that group together for a long time.

The most eye-popping deal is Freeman’s $135 million extension,. Yes, that is a ton of money, but he seems to have as solid of a future ahead of him as you could bet on.

Back-loading the contract allowed the Braves to avoid paying Freeman “superstar money” until 2017, but that’s certainly what he’ll be making for the five years after that. Freeman put up a line of .319/.396/.501 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage for the laymen) at the plate last season and cranked out 109 RBI in 147 games on his way to an All-Star selection and fifth-place in the National League MVP vote. He’s gone deep 21 or more times each of the last three seasons, which includes his rookie campaign where he finished in second place in Rookie of the Year voting. The Braves feel like they’ve found their next big star, and with Freeman’s steady ascent in production, they may very well be right.

The Kimbrel deal was a no-brainer from the club’s side as far as I’m concerned. Say what you will about the importance or lack thereof of the closer position, but a little over $10 million per year for the most consistent reliever in the game, especially with one as dominant as Kimbrel has been at times, doesn’t seem like a tough decision to make.

The sneakier of the Braves’ deals were locking up Simmons and Teheran for the long-term without diving into a financial sinkhole. Teheran did have himself a fine rookie campaign after all, winning 14 games over 30 starts and posting a 3.20 ERA. Still, signing a player in his second full season to such a long-term deal might seem bullish on the Braves’ part. But with the deal topping out at $11 million in 2019 (with a 2020 club option of $12 million) Atlanta was able to reserve the rights of a young pitcher with a high ceiling without committing big money.

As for Simmons, there’s no hiding his .248 batting average last season, but there’s also no hiding from his glove if you’re an opposing hitter.

“Simba” has established himself as one of the best defensive players in the game, so it’s tough to argue with wanting to keep him in Atlanta, particularly with a deal that averages out to just over $8 million a year for a Gold Glove-caliber player. If he can get on base more consistently to go with the pop he showed last year with 17 home runs, he’ll be worth every dollar the Braves spent on him and then some.

The Fallout

With anybody and everybody 25-and-under on the Braves’ roster getting paid, you’d have to think somebody would wind up getting the short end of the stick. In steps Jason Heyward.

Yeah, Atlanta ironed out a two-year deal with the outfielder earlier this month to avoid arbitration, but of the players the Braves have re-signed this month, J-Hey is the one with perhaps the most left to prove.

Since Heyward’s All-Star appearance as a 20-year-old rookie in 2010, he’s shown star potential, but hasn’t done so consistently enough to warrant the kind of deals Freeman and Kimbrel received.

Heyward bounced back from an abysmal sophomore campaign by hitting .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBI with 21 stolen bases in 2012. The five-tool prospect even won his first Gold Glove award and appeared set to exceed the lofty expectations fans and scouts had tagged him with.

A year later, he’s fresh off signing a two-year deal for just over $13 million; that would not have been my prediction.

Last season was one of injuries and inconsistency for Heyward, though bad luck had its role in it as well. He missed 58 games due to an appendectomy and being hit in the face with a pitch, not exactly your run-of-the-mill “he’s injury prone” stuff. But in the 104 games he was available, Heyward didn’t exactly impress.

I’ve seen it argued that the Braves were going to be forced to pick between Heyward and Freeman, in which case, yeah, that choice has been made. But with such a young team, they’ll be right back in this same situation in no time. Next, it’ll be, “the Braves can’t keep Gattis AND Heyward,” or some other version of the debate.

With all these back-loaded contracts, there’s going to be a point where the Braves’ front office is going to have to rein it in. Two years is plenty of time for Heyward to prove himself worthy of a big pay day, but seats on the Braves’ train are filling up quickly and as of now, and J-Hey could end up being the one who’s on the outside looking in.

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