If he had gone through arbitration, his cases could have warped the arbitration curve for good.
The four-year, $42 million deal still sets some new precedents, but hanging on to the best closer in the game could've been a lot more expensive for the Braves -- especially if Kimbrel had won his hearing this winter. He filed for $9 million. The Braves filed for $6.55 million. One party was going to win, but Atlanta was able to avoid the panel -- and welshing on their file-and-trial ethos -- by locking the 25-year-old up on a multiyear deal though 2017.
If Kimbrel panel ended up on Kimbrel's side of the hearing -- which was scheduled to take place about a day after they agreed to the extension -- his $9 million salary for the 2014 season would have just been the launching pad for some astronomical arbitration hearings.
Assuming he is able to continue racking up absolutely hedonistic stats -- namely saves, strikeouts, and ERA -- he would've been due for another raise after this season, and another after 2015.
He made $655,000 last year. He was set to get at least ten times that amount through arbitration, but if he had won, the Braves might be looking at a salary 20 to 30 times that amount next winter. The extension he just signed maxes out at $13 million in the option year for 2017. He could very well have topped that in second year of arbitration eligibility, and from there, who knows.
With this extension in place, the Braves conceded about $1.5 million for 2014, but they also prevented the possibility of having to shell out eight figures in 2015 and even more in 2016. And perhaps more importantly, they didn't set the new organizational precedent that would have manifested had they been "forced" to trade Kimbrel. Atlanta is locked in to a bottom-of-the-barrell TV deal, so their payroll is likely to continue hovering right around $90 million to $100 million for the foreseeable future -- at least as far as anyone can tell. If Atlanta allowed itself to become the sort of team that trades away great -- or even good -- players, they'd be entering a new era. They'd be admitting to themselves -- and the rest of the league -- that they had become one of those teams. Instead, they jumped out ahead of the depression with a plan.
So basically, Frank Wren is the successful baseball version of Herbert Hoover.
Anyhow, the rest of the league can be thankful that Atlanta was able to smooth out Kimbrel's earning potential rather than letting him pile giants mounds of money on the summit of arbitration.
Especially teams that have outrageous -- and soon to be expensive -- closers like the Royals with Greg Holland, the Reds with Aroldis Chapman, and the Dodgers with Kenley Ja... well, the Royals and Reds anyway. The Dodgers don't really operate within the same financial universe as everyone else.
But for normal teams, Kimbrel seeing the panel would have probably been a bad thing. He was poised to raise the arbitration ceiling a little bit -- or a lot. Although he might not care about that very much, the rest of the league is probably pretty "relieved" that they don't have to find out just how crazy things could have gotten.