Braves locking up young stars

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In a very busy two weeks, the Atlanta Braves locked up their best hitter, record-setting closer and potential pitching ace to long-term deals.

With the team determined to keep its young corps intact moving into a new suburban ballpark in 2017, the question now is “Who is next?”

The Braves have guaranteed more than $220 million to Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Julio Teheran, in addition to Jason Heyward. But general manager Frank Wren would still like to tie up young shortstop Andrelton Simmons, as well as starters Mike Minor and Kris Medlen.

“I’m just focused on playing,” said Simmons, who won the first of what should be many Gold Gloves in his first full season. “If it happens, great. I love Atlanta. So hopefully something gets done. But you never know.”

The contracts for Freeman, Kimbrel and Teheran were all back loaded and made possible by projected substantial increased revenue from a new stadium, which will be located in Cobb County outside Atlanta.

The Kimbrel signing, which once seemed unlikely, was announced just a day before he was to go to an arbitration hearing.

“I want to stay here with a group of guys that I came up with and I’m comfortable with,” said Kimbrel, who grew up a Braves fan in Huntsville, Ala. “In the game of baseball, it’s who you’re around, it’s the team you’re on and the guys you’re surrounded by. We have an awesome core here. I think this is a core that can win for a long time.”

Kimbrel, 25, led the National League in saves each of his first three full seasons and closed out 50 victories last year while compiling a 1.21 ERA. The right-hander has struck out 42.9 percent of all batters he’s faced.

“You just look at what he has contributed to the team his first three years in the big leagues,” Wren said. “It’s not only special, it’s historic.”

The deal, the largest ever given a reliever outside of free agency, guarantees Kimbrel $42 million the next fours seasons and includes a $13 million option for the 2018 season. If the option is exercised and all of the potential bonuses are earned, the package has a maximum value of $58.5 million.

“Knowing what it is going to cost us (to keep Kimbrel) over the next five years allows us to put everything in place to carry out the plan,” Wren said of locking up his top homegrown players. “This is all part of it.”

“I can see what we’re doing as an organization and ballclub,” Kimbrel said. “We’re going out to win. … I want to be closing out division titles and championships and World Series. We’ve got the team to do it and I’m excited.”