Guerry Clegg commentary: Braves have made some prudent moves

February 18, 2014 

It's baseball's economic paradox. Big spending never guarantees success and often is counterproductive. But being cheap almost always dooms teams to failure.

Thankfully, despite their recent bum luck with large contracts, the Atlanta Braves remembered this second principle. One year into that regrettable $75 million contract for BJ Upton, the Braves have made a series of expensive but prudent moves. And they could be working on a few more.

First, it was Jason Heyward (two years, $13.3 million), then Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million), then Julio Teheran (six years, $32.4 million), and now Craig Kimbrel (four years, $42 million).

Due up: shortstop Andrelton Simmons, pitchers Mike Minor and Kris Medlen, and third baseman Chris Johnson.

I don't care if the Braves never sign another big-time free agent, or, as was the case with Dan Uggla, if they trade for a high-priced player on the verge of free agency and then sign him to a mega-deal.

Let the Dodgers and Angels and Yankees and Red Sox take those huge risks.

Let's also hope they are done raiding their farm system to buy short-term fixes.

Let's hope the Braves never lose one of their own simply because they are too cheap to reward productivity.

Granted, any big contract is a risk. Many players press too hard to justify their paychecks. But that's much more common with free agents changing teams rather than those who are simply getting rewarded by their own club.

Spending big on veterans carries another risk. Most are in their 30s with their best years behind them. Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton come to mind. Now the Seattle Mariners, of all teams, signed Robinson Cano, 31 years old, to a contract they will likely come to regret.

If the Braves have to forego signing a franchise free agent such as Greg Maddux -- one of the best free agent signings ever -- then so be it. The St. Louis Cardinals have become the model franchise in all of baseball. They have built their organization on player development with a few moderately priced free agents (Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, Jhonny Peralta) along the way. Their biggest splurge was re-signing Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million deal in 2010.

They made an aggressive offer to keep Pujols but refused to overpay.

The Braves faced similar decisions, albeit on a smaller scale, with two of their stars. They made a cursory attempt to keep Brian McCann and more serious effort to keep Tim Hudson. Both left for more money than the Braves could justify. Time very well may validate those decisions as smart, although I still think the Braves were short-sighted in getting out-bid for Eric O'Flaherty.

Since announcing their decision to move to Cobb County, the Braves have maintained that the move was necessary to generate enough revenue to remain competitive. They might have spared themselves some grief by making these moves earlier in the offseason to show they were sincere about being competitive. Who knows, it might have given them a bump in season ticket sales. But at least they've done it, so it's encouraging to know this will not be another Miami Marlins fiasco -- beef up the roster to open the new stadium, then hold a yard sale after the first season.

The Braves' move to the suburbs is still three years away. It's encouraging to know that by the time they make the move, the core of this young team will still be together and in their collective prime.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent columnist. He can be reached at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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