March 4, 2014


Atlanta Braves have strong young core under contract for years to come (Adam Kilgore, March 3, 2014, Washington Post)

Signing extensions with homegrown stars early in their careers has become common practice. The Braves, in the span of three weeks in February, took it to the extreme. They viewed several factors, some league-wide, some specific to their situation.

Most important, they had the players. After conducting a study, the Braves found their players 25 and under generated 18.2 wins above replacement, Wren said. The next highest was the Los Angeles Angels with 12 -- and 11 came from Mike Trout. The Braves had more WAR from their under-25 players than the lowest 11 teams in the majors combined.

"We felt like we had a really good, young dynamic young group of players under age 25 that we could extend," Wren said. "And we'd be capitalizing on their most productive years."

Across the league, both the quality and quantity of free agents have declined, and many suspect stronger testing for performance-enhancing drugs has resulted in players declining more rapidly from their peak seasons. Sign a free agent to an eight-year contract, and you get the shaky end of his career. Sign Freeman at 24, and you get his entire prime. And the free agent would cost more.

"We are seeing, 30 is 30 again. 32 is 32 again," Wren said. "And I think that drives a lot of these decisions. Of the five guys we signed, the oldest is going to be 31. We're getting their prime years, which was part of their strategy."

The rash of extensions also has created a cycle: As more teams use extensions for their homegrown players, the free agent crop has thinned.

"As more and more teams take on this philosophy, you're seeing less quality in the free agent market," Wren said. "And so clubs are looking to keep their own and not have to go into that market. Because it's not only less quality, but it's less efficient. You're at the mercy of a supply-and-demand system. Usually, there's more demand than supply."

Posted by at March 4, 2014 12:12 PM

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