LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There is a disturbed segment of the baseball populace that has come to believe closers are overrated. This group of fans and some team executives mostly are followers (lemmings?) of Sabermetrics, a pure, 100-percent statistical evaluation of baseball that allows no room for trivial things ... like brains and heartbeats.
"All innings are created equal," Braves general manager Frank Wren said with a smile Sunday, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Statistical evaluation can be a valuable tool for judging athletes and teams. But there's also something to be said for the mindset of a pitcher who can come out of the bullpen in the ninth inning with no outs and two runners on base in a one-run game and not spontaneously combust.
Which brings me to Enter Craig Kimbrel. The Braves signed their closer to a four-year contract with $42 million guaranteed. A fifth-year option and incentives can bring the value of the contract to nearly $60 million. That is a lot of money for a closer, who generally are the biggest injury risk on the roster. But Kimbrel, who was scheduled to go to arbitration Monday, has put up improbable and illogical numbers: 138 saves in his first three seasons, including 50 last year. He was a commodity the Braves could not afford to lose.
UPDATE: Here's a link to today's subscription column on why Jason Heyward was left out of the mega-contract extravaganza.
"It’s a special day for us because we know we have the back end of the game locked down," Wren said.
"If you can have that piece in place with solid starting pitching, we can figure out the rest of it (in the middle). I’m not in thee camp that thinks anybody can close games, that anybody with a good arm can go back and pitch in the ninth. ... There’s a lot of people in that camp, unfortunately. Well, I say unfortunately but that’s their preference. It doesn’t bother me."
Wren continues to lock up the team's core. That's three big deals in the last two weeks given to Kimbrel, starter Julio Teheran and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Jason Heyward was signed for two years. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons and pitcher Mike Minor are other members of the identified team core that could be signed to long term deals.
"I feel like this is a core we can win with for a long time," Kimbrel said.
And that doesn't happen without a closer.