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Posted: 10:18 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014

Braves’ Kimbrel gets four-year, $42 million contract

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Feb. 16, 2014 photo
Alex Brandon
Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel fields a ball during a spring training baseball workout, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. The Braves agreed to terms with Kimbrel on a four-year contract. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Feb. 16, 2014 photo
Alex Brandon
Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel reacts during a spring training baseball workout, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. The Braves agreed to terms with Kimbrel on a four-year contract. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By David O'Brien

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Braves’ plan for the future is looking grander by the day, with closer Craig Kimbrel signed Sunday to a four-year, $42 million contract with a fifth-year option.

The deal, which came one day before Kimbrel’s scheduled arbitration hearing, is the largest contract ever for a closer prior to free agency, and the value could increase to nearly $60 million through incentives and the $13 million option.

“I think we’re thrilled that Craig’s going to be here for at least the next four years, and we’re pretty confident that it’s going to be five years,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.

The deal came two days after the Braves gave a six-year, $32.4 million contract to 23-year-old starting pitcher Julio Teheran, and less than two weeks since they signed 24-year-old first baseman Freddie Freeman to a franchise-record eight-year, $135 million extension. They also signed right fielder Jason Heyward to a two-year, $13.3 million deal.

Kimbrel, 25, said those multi-year deals for other young Braves helped convince him to sign long-term with the Braves. Until negotiations heated up in the past week, he conceded that he doubted a deal could get done.

“I’m very excited,” said Kimbrel, a three-time All-Star who became the youngest pitcher to have a 50-save season, and has tied or led the National League in saves for three consecutive seasons. “If I didn’t want to be here, this wouldn’t be going on. We’re playing to win. This is where I want to be.”

Kimbrel gets a $1 million signing bonus, a $7 million salary this season, then $9 million in 2015, $11 million in 2016, and $13 million in 2017. There is a $1 million buyout on his $13 million option in 2018.

The Alabama native finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting in 2013 and has been baseball’s most dominant reliever for the three seasons since moving into the full-time closer role. He had a 1.21 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 67 innings while tying for the major league saves lead in 2013.

Kimbrel has an inventory of unprecedented statistics for someone so young, including 138 saves over the past three seasons and a 1.39 ERA with 381 strikeouts in 227-1/3 career innings. He has struck out a staggering 43 percent of the batters he’s faced in his career.

If the case had gone to arbitrtation, a three-person panel would have to choose between the $9 million salary asked for and the $6.55 million proposed by the Braves when the two sides exchanged salary-arbitration figures on Jan. 17. Either way, it would have been a record for a reliever in his first year of arbitration.

The contract buys out his three arbitration seasons and at least one free-agent year.

“I think when you have the best closer in the game, you’re always hopeful that you can work something out,” Wren said. “We had an arbitration hearing set for tomorrow. And fortunately over the last week we’ve been able to have negotiations that allowed us to reach an agreement.”

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