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Braves locking up young stars

The SportsXchange

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."

NOTES, QUOTES

-- RF Jason Heyward is still wearing the helmet with protective guard he needed late last season after missing a month because of a broken jaw suffered when hit by a fastball from New York Mets lefty Jonathan Niese. Heyward, limited to 102 games last year, is penciled in again to bad leadoff again for the Braves after hitting .322 (38-for-118) with nine doubles, six homers and a .403 on-base percentage from that spot the second half of 2013.

-- RHP Luis Vasquez is given a good chance to make the Braves bullpen despite reporting five days late to spring training because of visa issues and straining a muscle in the Dominican Winter League playoffs. Vasquez, signed as a minor league free agent out of the Los Angeles Dodgers system, was 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA in 22 relief appearanes in his native Dominican, striking out 19 and walking three in 17 2/3 innings.

-- 2B Dan Uggla, trying to bounce back after hitting .179 in 2013, arrived at spring training before even the pitchers were to report and was busy in the batting cage. He was so bad last year that he wasn't included on the postseason roster, but the Braves have no choice except to give the veteran another chance after failing to find a trade partner this winter. "I'm going into the season thinking that Danny is going to play second base," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

-- RHP Gavin Floyd, signed for $4 million as a free agent, has been throwing off the mound since January and hopes to be ready to pitch for the Braves in May -- 12 months after Tommy John elbow surgery. Floyd, who made four starts for the Chicago White Sox last year before needing surgery, has a 70-70 career record with a 4.48 ERA. His best season was in 2008, when he won 17 games.

-- 2B Tyler Pastornicky, coming back from surgery for a torn ACL, hadn't been cleared for full activity at the start of camp although he was taking batting practice and running. He hurt his knee last August when he and RF Jason Heyward went after a shallow outfield pop. Pastornicky, the Braves' opening day shortstop in 2012, spent most of 2013 with Class AAA Gwinnett.

-- RHP Julio Teheran's six-year $32.4 million contract includes an $11 million salary for 2019 and an option for 2020 worth $12. Teheran, who turned 23 in January, won 14 games last year and finished third in National League voting for rookie of the year. He earns just $800,000 this season, but received a $1 million signing bonus.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The division got better, as it should. But we're a pretty solid team. Just because one team in a division makes a move doesn't mean you have to." -- RHP Kris Medlen.
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