It’s Okay to Not Love the Kimbrel Extension

It’s Okay to Not Love the Kimbrel Extension

Twitter exploded a few hours ago as the first news was reported by Mark Bowman, beat reporter.  Apparently, there could be news of a Craig Kimbrel extension.  Coming on the heels of recent extensions to three different cornerstones of the Braves, this news was still surprising considering the huge gap in arbitration figures the team and Kimbrel had (about $2.5M apart).  But shortly after Bowman’s leak, the news became official.  Kimbrel receives at least $42M over the next four years, plus a $13.5M option for a fifth season that has been reported to be a club option.  Add in incentives and Kimbrel could receive near $60M over the next five seasons, an average salary of $12M.  Jon Heyman has the breakdown of each season’s salary here.

The immediate reaction from Braves fans was elation and there is good reason for that.  Kimbrel is the best reliever in baseball and has been for at least two seasons.  If FIP is an indicator of future success, Kimbrel’s career FIP is 1.44.  Of people with 220 innings of major league experience, Kimbrel’s 15.08 K/9 is the best of all time.  And that FIP number…also the best of all time.

Kimbrel turns 26 in May and has been remarkably durable throughout his career both in the minors and in the majors.  The contract will cover his age 26 season through his age 29 season plus a possible age 30 season.  He’s much younger than Jonathan Papelbon, who received a similar 4 year, $50M contract with a $13M vesting option for a fifth year.  That deal began with Papelbon’s age 31 season.

So, why don’t I love this deal?

Let me just say that I do like this deal because I love Kimbrel.  Buying out three years of arbitration plus a year of free agency isn’t the worst course of action for the Braves, who likely saved money by not going year-to-year.  After all, what if Kimbrel had won his arbitration case and received $9M?  He doesn’t make that until the second year of this contract.  If Kimbrel gets $9M in his first year of arbitration, what does he get in his second year?  $13M?  $16M in his third year?  That alone, if you covered him through all three years of arbitration, would have ran you $38M.  The Braves covered those three years with $27M.  Even if you think my arbitration estimates are too liberal, the Braves at least saved $5M and probably much more.

On the other hand, is it smart to pay so handsomely for a 3 fWAR pitcher?  Is it long-term the right move to pay this much in cash when the player is so dependent on the starter pitching well, the bullpen getting the lead to him, the offense scoring runs, and the defense playing well?  For that matter, yes, he has been durable.  But relievers often wear down or simply break.  What if Kimbrel misses the lionshare of one of the contract’s years, if not more?

I’m not saying that the Braves shouldn’t have done this.  I actually expected higher financial totals for the deal when the years were originally announced.  I was worried the deal, before incentives, would climb into the $55M or more range.  So, on that, the Braves did well.  But there is definitely a healthy amount of risk with this extension, risk I would have taken on other players first (Andrelton Simmons and Mike Minor to name a couple).  Kimbrel is amazing, but sustained health among relievers is rare.

I don’t love this contract extension.  I don’t hate it, but I can’t love it right now.

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