It is difficult to think of the Atlanta Braves as a mid-market ballclub. After all, at the turn of the century, their $86 Million payroll was the third highest in baseball. The Braves were in the midst of a run of fourteen consecutive playoff appearances. Their pitching staff was fronted by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, two of which were voted into the Hall of Fame this year. The Braves were one of the premier teams in baseball.
Yet, fourteen years later, the Braves payroll has not changed much. Heading into this season, the Braves payroll is projected to be at $91.8 Million, under $6 Million more than it was at the turn of the century, and under $2 Million more than what the Royals are projected to spend this season. Both teams, it would seem, face the same problems when it comes to the challenges of competing.
However, the Braves have looked to lock not just their present, but their future. This past offseason, they have signed Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran and Andrelton Simmons to long term deals. Although Heyward is only signed for the next two years, the Braves could potentially look to get him locked up beyond 2015. By doing so, the Braves have built in cost certainty and have managed to lock up the young core of their team. Much like the Rays and the A’s, the Braves are focusing on keeping what they envision as their core together for as long as they can.
The Royals, meanwhile, have yet to undertake this process. While Salvador Perez has been locked up, the Royals have yet to sign any of their other young players to an extension. While signing Eric Hosmer, Greg Holland or even Yordano Ventura to long term contracts may carry some risk, it would be a worthwhile gamble. Players that are thought to be the future of the franchise would not just be the future, but they could actually be around for the Royals to potentially do more than to just part ways with them for prospects in a couple of years.
Of course, as with anything involving the Royals, there is the specter of the cost. While extending those players would cause David Glass to spend more money upfront, he may actually end up saving money with the extensions instead of going year by year in arbitration. The players, meanwhile, would have the certainty of knowing that, no matter what, they are taken care of in the future. Such a move could actually be a win-win situation.
For the Royals to sustain the success they had last season, and they appear poised to have in 2014, they are going to need to start signing some of these players to extensions. As the Rays, A’s and now the Braves have proven, it may be the best way for a small to mid-market team to compete long term.