Craig Kimbrel rumors: Arbitration hearing likely for Braves closer

Marc Serota

Kimbrel's freakish numbers could lead to a transformative arbitration hearing, and huge salary for the Braves to absorb.

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is unlikely to avoid arbitration with the team, meaning the two sides could be headed for a hearing to decide his 2014 salary, as Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports.

Kimbrel has put up otherworldly numbers since being promoted to the majors in 2010. He's thrown 227⅓ innings over those four seasons, striking out over 15 batters per nine frames while posting a microscopic 1.39 ERA. He's allowed less than one baserunner an inning in his career, and just 10 home runs total in 231 career appearances.

However, the most important figure to his 2014 salary will probably be the 139 saves he's racked up in three full seasons as the Braves closer. The arbitration process tends to reward counting stats like wins and saves, which is why many of the predictions for Kimbrel's first time through the process have been of the game-changing variety.

MLB Trade Rumors currently projects Kimbrel to earn $7.25 million in front of the panel, but they had to scale back their original projection to get there, applying a new rule to their method in the process.

In other words, Kimbrel broke the model.

He could do the same in the actual process as well. Before the readjustment, MLBTR's figure for the 25-year-old's 2014 salary was $10.2 million. That would smash the previous record for a closer -- Jonathan Papelbon's $6.25 million in 2009.

A salary that high could also be a problem for the Braves, who are pretty much locked into their current payroll of around $90 million thanks to a long-term TV deal that runs through 2027. They will be looking to lock up one of the best young cores in baseball over the next few seasons, and although Kimbrel might be the league's best closer, position players like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Andrelton Simmons are likely to be the club's priority.

The Braves might find a way to keep all of their promising, young talent, but if Kimbrel ends up earning somewhere close to $9 million in his first time through arbitration, he'll only get more expensive from there. That could lead the Braves to consider shopping their transcendent closer sometime in the future.

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