The Atlanta Braves announced today that they have agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Craig Kimbrel on a four-year contract, thus avoiding salary arbitration. The contract runs through the 2017 season and includes an option for the 2018 campaign. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.
"We are very excited to agree to terms with Craig, who we feel is the best closer in Major League Baseball," Braves Executive Vice President and General Manager Frank Wren said. "He is one of the key pieces of our pitching staff and we are happy to keep him in a Braves uniform for at least four more years."
Kimbrel, 25, owns 139 career saves in 154 save opportunities, with a 1.39 ERA in 231 games (all in relief). He has recorded 381 strikeouts among the 883 batters he has faced in the regular season (43 percent). Kimbrel's career save percentage of 90.3 ranks third in Major League history among relievers with at least 150 save opportunities, behind only Eric Gagne (91.7%) and John Smoltz (91.1%). Kimbrel is 15 saves shy of Smoltz's franchise record of 154 career rescues.
Kimbrel enjoyed a historic season in 2013, when he was named to the National League All-Star team for the third straight season and finished fourth in voting for the NL Cy Young Award. He led the league and tied for the Major League lead (with Baltimore's Jim Johnson) with a career-high 50 saves. He became the youngest pitcher in MLB history to notch 50 saves in a season and he converted a franchise-record 37 straight save opportunities from May 9 to September 14. During that stretch, he allowed just two runs (0.38 ERA) and 23 hits in 47 appearances (47.1 IP), with 68 strikeouts. With his 40th save on July 24, Kimbrel became first pitcher in MLB history with 40-plus saves in each of his first three seasons. He also became the second-youngest pitcher in MLB history to record 100 career saves (#100 came May 9 at San Francisco).
Originally selected by the Braves in the third round (96th overall) of the 2008 draft, Kimbrel made his Major League debut during the 2010 season and was a unanimous selection for NL Rookie of the Year in 2011, when he saved 46 games and recorded a 2.10 ERA, with 127 strikeouts in 77 IP.
In six total postseason games (2010, '12, '13), he has notched 10 strikeouts over 6.2 innings pitched, with a 1.35 ERA and just one hit allowed.