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Mark Bradley

The Braves’ young core is set to get expensive

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One guy just left. How long will the other be here? (Jason Getz/AJC)

One guy just left. How long will the other be here? (Jason Getz/AJC)

The Atlanta Braves are set to be taken to arbitration by Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. (This after Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Chris Johnson and Jordan Schafer accepted one-year contracts at the last minute.) As Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus notes, 146 players filed for arbitration this winter; of those, 11 were Braves.

The Braves are lucky in that they have a great young core. (We haven’t yet mentioned Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Brandon Beachy or Julio Teheran.) But the owner of a great young core won’t always feel so lucky. Those guys grow up to make more and more money, and eventually they become free agents, in which case — assuming they’re still good — they can make tons of the stuff.

I’ve written a little something that will appear in Sunday’s AJC — it will be available on myajc.com, our premium site — regarding the problems the Braves are just starting to face regarding the care and feeding of their core. As general manager Frank Wren notes, this is not at all unexpected. But Lindbergh, who was interviewed for the story, points out that the easiest way to keep some (but not all) of such a core is to offer long-term extensions to guys who are still very young. Lindbergh also notes that the last young Brave to sign such a contract was Brian McCann in 2007.

The closer a young guy gets to free agency, the less apt he is to sign anything long-term. Heyward, Medlen and Justin Upton are set to become free agents after the 2015 season; Kimbrel, Freeman, Johnson and Beachy can do so after 2016.

I asked Lindbergh what he might do were he the Braves’ GM, and he made two suggestions: Consider trading Kimbrel and try hard to lock up Simmons, who’s five years from free agency and might be less reluctant to commit himself to a long-term deal. This made sense to me, even as I note that Kimbrel is the best closer in baseball by three miles. (As a rule, baseball folks tend to regard paying huge money for a closer as inefficient; they work only an inning a game, and the difference between the best closer and a garden-variety one isn’t thought to be vast.)

So now I’m asking y’all: If there’s one Brave who should be locked up now, who is it? The poll below awaits.

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