COMMENTARY | At this point, bemoaning B.J. Upton's laughable season and ridiculous mega-contract would be tantamount to digging up Secretariat and introducing him to the business end of a Louisville Slugger.
We all know Upton is overpaid to an ungodly degree -- even when he is actually hitting his career .248 average. This makes the .184 he dropped in 2013 feel slightly akin to paying for filet mignon but getting a gas station hot dog in return.
As bad as the Upton deal was for the Atlanta Braves last season, the real negative impact of his franchise record-breaking contract is still yet to be seen. The ripple-effect Upton will cause makes it that much more important for the Braves to load up and try to win right now.
It's weird to think a team as young as the Braves would already have their window of opportunity slowly closing, but, thanks to deals like Upton's, that is exactly the situation in which Atlanta finds itself.
This offseason, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Jonny Venters will all get to sit down at the arbitration table to negotiate raises for the 2014 season. There is no secret why the Braves chose not to re-sign Tim Hudson and Brian McCann -- they needed the money to pay all of their young stars.
For the next three years, the Braves will have contractual control over most of these players, but Atlanta may be unable to keep this team together for very long. Having this much young talent is a nice problem to have -- until it starts to become a serious financial burden.
The Dreaded Year 2016
If you think the $13.05 million the Braves paid to Upton was bad this year, just wait until that number balloons to $16 and $17 million per season in the final two years of his deal. The Braves have never been a franchise that will go wallet-to-wallet with the likes of the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, and soon, Atlanta could see those clubs are circling the skies, just waiting for these players to become available.
After the 2015 season, Heyward and Justin Upton will both become free agents. The two will be firmly in their prime and looking for long-term deals. Unless Heyward suddenly starts producing the 30 home run, 100-RBI seasons we have all been waiting for, his long-term deal shouldn't force the Braves to start selling off all the brass fixtures in the stadium quite yet. Still, Atlanta will seriously have to weigh whether or not to bring him back because one year later, the real money will start getting dished out by the shovel full.
Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel
In 2013, Kimbrel recorded 50 saves and a 1.21 ERA. In just his third season of full-time work, the Braves' closer has already amassed 139 career saves. To put Kimbrel's success in better perspective, Mariano Rivera totaled only 102 saves in his first three seasons as a closer. Simply put, there is no current scale for what Kimbrel could demand on the open market. The Philadelphia Phillies paid Jonathan Papelbon $13 million last season for 29 saves. Given the way MLB contracts have been escalating, it may not be a stretch to think Kimbrel could become the first $20 million closer.
And then there is Freddie Freeman. The Braves' first baseman hit .319 with 23 home runs and 109 RBIs last season. He finished No. 5 in the NL MVP voting and has squarely planted himself as the new post-Chipper Jones face of the franchise.
You better believe the Atlanta accountants felt a shiver run up their collective spine when the Cincinnati Reds gave Joey Votto a 10-year, $225 million contract for less production than the Braves are getting from Freeman right now. Luckily, neither Freeman nor Kimbrel are Scott Boras' clients, but the two could still demand as much as half of a normal Atlanta payroll when their big-dollar days finally arrive.
With B.J. Upton set to account for roughly 20 percent of the payroll pie in the future, keeping both Freeman and Kimbrel would not leave a lot of blueberries left to be spread around to other players on the roster. Dan Uggla's $13 million per season will mercifully be off the books by then, but I haven't even brought up any of the deals the high-ranking starting staff will also demand.
In 2016, the very real question will have to be posed as to whether or not the Braves seriously consider trading Freeman or Kimbrel in an attempt to get back as much young talent as they can before one -- or both -- of them chase the dollar signs of free agency.
The moral or the story is that the Braves are now on the clock. Three years is what Atlanta has to work with to bring home another World Series title, because, by the time the Braves pack up and move into their new digs in Cobb County, this roster may look a lot different, and we will have B.J. Upton to blame yet again.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Braves
- Freddie Freeman
- Justin Upton
- Craig Kimbrel