Vice President of the Atlanta Braves Frank Wren has a big task at hand this offseason: keeping Craig Kimbrel.
The Atlanta Braves have already bid adieu to Brian McCann, a seven time All-Star and five time Silver Slugger award winner. They have also said farewell to veteran pitcher Tim Hudson who agreed to a two-year, $23 million contract in November with the San Francisco Giants. The Braves have lost arguably their two largest veteran influences on its roster.
While other fans may be begging Wren to make big moves in the offseason and acquire some big names to fill in the roster that lacks a veteran presence, Wren needs to focus on Kimbrel. Quite possibly one of the best closers in baseball, especially considering the retirement of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, Kimbrel is one of the fresh faces of the team the Braves need to make an effort to keep.
Kimbrel’s numbers speak for themselves. Already a three time All-Star, he has garnered 138 saves since his debut for the Braves May 7, 2010. At only twenty-five, he has a career ERA of 1.39 and can boast the titles of National League Rookie of the Year for 2011 and MLB’s Delivery Man of the Year for 2013. Barring injury, the Braves have one of the most reliable closers at their disposal for possibly the next ten years.
The Braves love pitching. There is no doubt about that. The Braves have also reached a point where they have one of the youngest starting rosters in baseball behind Seattle, Miami, and Houston. Instead of spending money to pull in a big name with a long and varied career, it is time for the Braves to take the talent they have and make the most of it.
It is time for the young players to step up and become the franchise players they are expected to become. Gone are the days of Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann. The new faces of the team could be Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, and Craig Kimbrel. The management and the fans need to step back and let the kids show what they can do.
“I don’t see, necessarily, a front-line move,” Wren said. “I see more support moves, where you are adding a bench bat that can give you power off the bench. Or adding to our bullpen or adding to the depth of our rotation. I see it more likely to make those moves than the big front-line moves.” (MLB.com, Dec. 2013)
If Wren sticks to his plan of filling supporting roles, the Braves are looking to have as good a season as they did this past year. Yes, the veteran presence is not as large as it has been in previous years, but the Braves have the pieces they need to overcome this.
It is difficult to predict the life of a closer. Pitchers have an increased likelihood for injuries, and closers are even more susceptible. With Kimbrel throwing pitches into the high nineties and breaking the 100 mph mark frequently, no one can say for sure how long his arm will last. He hasn’t shown signs of stopping yet though.
It would also be more rewarding to trade Kimbrel now than lose him to free agency in 2016, but the Braves should seriously consider signing him to a multi-year contract. Kimbrel has been as reliable as a closer could possibly be during his tenure with the Braves, and who is to say if another closer of his caliber would come along anytime soon?
Trading Kimbrel would not only force the Braves to find a sufficient substitute for the closer-role, but one of the most dependable pitchers on the staff would also be gone. The less uncertainty this team has going into the 2014 season, the better. Kimbrel has been a constant for the team, and letting him go would be a huge mistake.
A popular new tradition has been created at Turner Field. With the announcement of Kimbrel coming into the game and his walk-out song “Welcome to the Jungle” echoing throughout the stadium, the electronic scoreboard along the outfield wall becomes a screen of flames with a message: Release the Kimbrel.
This message has become a rallying point for all fans, the ones in the stadium, the ones at home, and even the ones on Twitter. It is a rallying point for all fans who know what opposing batters are soon to face. It is a sign of a new era for the Braves, and ultimately, it is a sign of the one thing the Braves should not do.
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