Braves lock up Simmons with seven-year deal
Shortstop joins core of Freeman, Kimbrel, Teheran to get long-term contracts
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andrelton Simmons arrived in Braves camp hoping to be the next member of the club's talented core to receive a contract extension. Two days later, he received his wish.
Extending what has recently become a regular ritual, Braves general manager Frank Wren met with reporters early Thursday afternoon to announce the club had signed Simmons to a seven-year contract. The $58 million deal runs through the 2020 season, when the talented shortstop will be 31 years old.
"We believe he is the premier shortstop in the game, and we're thrilled to have him signed through all of his arbitration years and his first two free-agent years," Wren said. "It continues with the theme of keeping our core together for a long time, and we think he's an integral part of that."
Simmons has gained this financial comfort and commitment after playing just 206 games at the big league level. But since making his Major League debut midway through the 2012 season, the entertaining Curacao native has led many around the baseball world to label him as the game's elite defensive shortstop.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet," Simmons said. "But I know I'm happy."
Over the past couple of weeks, the Braves have been confident this deal would get done. They were able to stage these negotiations in conjunction with the talks surrounding the six-year, $32.4 million deal Julio Teheran signed late last week.
But the agreement was not reached until Simmons dealt with the visa issues that delayed his exit from his native Curacao and arrived in the United States. After working out with the Braves at their Spring Training complex on Tuesday, Simmons met later that evening with his agents, Abel Guerra and Troy Caradonna, who also represent Teheran.
"It was still up in the air," Simmons said. "There was nothing that was sure yet. We were really close the whole time I felt, and it got done. I'm really excited about that. I'm really happy to be here. This is the team I grew up watching. So it's a dream come true."
While Wren said there is still a chance he could lock up some of his other young talented players in the near future, he has already solidified his club's core by committing $280.7 million with the extensions that have been given to Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Teheran and Jason Heyward over the past two weeks.
As the Braves plan for the future, they have the comfort of knowing that Simmons, Freeman, Kimbrel and Teheran are already positioned to still be together when the club opens its new Cobb County stadium in 2017.
"We're really happy with the progress we have made in putting this team together and keeping it together for the long term," Wren said. "But I wouldn't characterize that we are done. I would characterize it that it's a work in progress."
Simmons' $58 million deal includes a $1 million signing bonus and escalating salaries of $1 million (2014), $3 million ('15), $6 million ('16), $8 million ('17), $11 million ('18), $13 million ('19) and $15 million (2020).
This contract provides Simmons with an average salary of $8.29 million over the next seven years. There is always risk involved with these back-loaded deals given to players early in their careers. But with the possibility that Simmons will qualify as a Super Two arbitration-eligible player, the Braves could realize some potential savings as early as 2015.
"We think he's just going to continue to get better offensively," Wren said. "I think for us, it was somewhat of a no-brainer that he would be part of that young core that we would tie up."
There has never been reason to question what Simmons provides in the field. After Simmons was credited with 41 defensive runs saved last year -- the highest total recorded by a player since the stat's inception in 2003 -- Rawlings recognized him as the National League's top defensive player by giving him the Platinum Glove Award.
Simmons also compiled a 5.4 defensive wins above replacement (WAR), which stands as the highest single-season mark recorded by a Major Leaguer. This mark was also nearly a full win higher than the second-highest mark (4.6) last season, which was produced by Milwaukee center fielder Carlos Gomez.
"When you have a chance to sign your best defender who plays in the middle of the diamond for that type of long-term deal, it's an easy [decision]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's a guy that makes a difference offensively, and we know defensively as well -- he's a game-changer."
While Simmons can significantly influence a game simply with his glove, he provided some signs of encouragement from an offensive perspective as he hit 17 home runs, while batting .248 with a .296 on-base percentage last year. The power proved surprising given the fact he had entered the season having totaled nine home runs in 1,096 at-bats at the professional level.
After helping The Netherlands reach the semifinals of last year's World Baseball Classic, Simmons told his representatives that he felt he could hit at least 15 home runs for the Braves.
"I feel like I should be able to stay in that range," Simmons said. "I'm not going to try to do more. But definitely, I learned a lot last year from being in the cages with the Brian McCanns and Freddie Freemans and Justin Uptons. You pick up stuff. I definitely got some work in this offseason. I feel I have definitely gotten a little better and I'm understanding the hitting a little more."
If Simmons extends the progress he made while recording a .789 OPS after last year's All-Star break, the term "defensive" might not need to be used when referring to him as baseball's best shortstop.
But for now, the Braves are simply pleased with knowing they will have the opportunity to rely on Simmons' influential glove for at least the next seven seasons.
"It's really nice to see that the Braves want to keep this team together," Simmons said. "We have a very talented team. It's a fun team to be around. Them showing the confidence in us is really cool."