LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Craig Kimbrel no longer has to worry about the arbitration process. More importantly, the Braves have positioned themselves to not have to worry about who is going to handle their closing duties over the next four seasons.
The Braves have signed Kimbrel to a four-year, $42 million contract that includes a $13 million option for the 2018 season. If the option is exercised and all of the potential bonuses are earned, the package has a maximum value of $58.5 million.
Kimbrel's contract is the largest ever given to a closer who has not yet become a free agent. It also provides him the largest guarantee and average annual value ever given to any first-year arbitration-eligible pitcher.
"I'm very excited," Kimbrel said. "This is where I wanted to be. I'm glad we were able to come to terms and get this done.
"First of all, I want to thank God for giving me the ability that he has and blessing me to allow my family to be so close to me and be in the place where I've grown up always wanting to be. Now, I get to say I get to be here for four or five more years. If I didn't want to be here, this wouldn't be going on. I couldn't be any happier."
The Braves announced the deal on Sunday morning, approximately 24 hours before they had been scheduled to go to an arbitration hearing that would have determined whether Kimbrel's 2014 salary would be the team's offer of $6.55 million or his request of $9 million.
Kimbrel is guaranteed an average salary of $10.5 million over the next four years. If the maximum value is realized, he'll earn an average of $11.7 million over the next five years.
"I think we had to be creative and as we put the deal together," general manager Frank Wren said. "There was a lot of creativity at the end to try to bridge the gap of being fair to both sides. To his credit, he was willing to bridge it in a creative way. If he continues to perform at this level, he's going to get more. If he's just great or just good, then it's another number. I think it's a fair concept for both of us."
Through his first three seasons as Atlanta's closer, Kimbrel has managed to exceed the lofty expectations he produced during his successful Minor League days, when he was known as "the right-handed Billy Wagner." In the 210 appearances he has made since the start of the 2011 season, Kimbrel has converted 138 of 153 save opportunities, produced a 1.48 ERA and struck out 42.9 percent of the batters he has faced. No other Major League closer has converted more than 110 saves during this span.
While becoming the youngest pitcher to ever record a 50-save season in 2013, Kimbrel also became the first closer in Major League history to record 40-plus saves in each of his first three full seasons.
"You just look at what he has contributed to the team his first three years in the big leagues," Wren said. "It's not only special, it's historic."
If Kimbrel extends his recent trend, which has allowed him to draw comparisons to the likes of Wagner and Mariano Rivera, this has the potential to be a team-friendly deal. Had Kimbrel lost Monday's scheduled hearing and then extended his recent success this upcoming season, he would have been in line to gain a salary between $10-11 million in 2015, which would have been the second of three potential arbitration-eligible seasons.
In the event that Kimbrel would have won this year's hearing, there would have been reason to wonder if the if the Braves would have to trade him at the end of this upcoming season to delete the risk of him proving to be too expensive during his final two arbitration-eligible seasons.
But after Kimbrel's agent, David Meter, got the negotiations rolling again last week, it became apparent that the Braves did not want to lose an elite closer, and Kimbrel did not want to say goodbye to a team that he has dreamed of playing for dating back to his childhood days in Huntsville, Ala.
"I want to stay here with a group of guys that I came up with and I'm comfortable with," Kimbrel said. "In the game of baseball, it's who you're around, it's the team you're on and the guys you're surrounded by. We have an awesome core here. I think this is a core that can win for a long time."
With this agreement, the Braves have taken another major step in their comprehensive plan to keep a solid portion of their talented young core together in preparation of the opening of their new stadium in 2017. Over the past two weeks, the organization has committed more than $220 million with extensions given to Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran and Kimbrel.
"Knowing what it is going to cost us [to keep Kimbrel] over the next five years allows us to put everything in place to carry out the plan," Wren said. "I talked a little bit about the plan the other day and this is all part of it."
Kimbrel said the decisions to make the previous commitments to the aforementioned players only increased his desire to stay in Atlanta.
"I can see what we're doing as an organization and ballclub," Kimbrel said. "We're going out to win. As of right now, we're planning on winning for a long time. This is where I want to be. I want to be closing out division titles and championships and World Series. We've got the team to do it and I'm very excited."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.