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Jeff Schultz

Braves’ signing of Teheran another risk worth taking

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Julio Teheran had 170 strikeouts in his first full season as a Braves' starter. (AP photo)

Julio Teheran had 170 strikeouts in his first full season as a Braves’ starter. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 2 p.m.)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — While it can be debated whether the Braves have done enough in this offseason to win a World Series, there is little doubt they are positioning themselves nicely for the future.

Just 10 days after signing first baseman Freddie Freeman to  a franchise record eight-year, $135 million contract, the Braves locked up their potential ace of the future. Julio Teheran, who in first full season evolved into one of the team’s premier starters, signed a six-year contract worth just over $32 million.

For an organization that has lost a number of legends and/or clubhouse staples through retirements or free agency over the last several years — Chipper Jones, Tim Hudson and Brian McCann recently; John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux before them– locking up Freeman and Teheran are two significant steps toward securing future stability.

There’s inherent risk with any big contract, and certainly any big contract that is given to a player so young (Freeman is 24; Teheran just turned 23). But Wren was justified in taking these financial leaps.

Freeman was the team’s most valuable player last year in only his third season, hitting .319 with 23 homers and driving in 109 runs. He has steadily improved and avoided prolonged slumps.

Teheran has shown he can be a top-of-the-rotation guys for several years. In his first full season, at the age of 22, he went 14-8 with 3.2o ERA in 30 starts. He struck out 170 and walked only 45 walks in 185.2 innings.

“We’ve been impressed with his approach, his make-up and his maturity,” said general manager Frank Wren, who made the announcement Friday as Braves’ pitchers and catchers were beginning their first official workout of spring training at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex. “He’s made great strides and we also saw him rise to the occasion in the biggest moments. It gave us confidence that he had the makeup and maturity to be a player we can count on for a long time.”

Teheran is less than seven years removed from being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Cartagena, Colombia at the age of 16. Suffice to say, signing his name on a paper that guarantees him a reported $32.4 million is not something that ever was in his mind.

“I feel happy, excited,” he said. “Now that I know my family is taken care of, I can go out and relax and try to have fun. But it’s not going to change the kind of pitcher I am.”

The Braves opted not to try to acquire a No. 1 starter this winter. But Teheran has that potential. He will compete in this camp with Kris Medlen and perhaps Mike Minor. But Wren avoided labels Friday when asked about Teheran’s future.

“We feel he has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation guy,” he said. “As far as throwing around numbers, I don’t know that that’s easy to quantify.”

The deal also includes a seventh-year option that could take Teheran through the 2020 season and the first two years of free agency. Yes, there is some risk. Teheran has been a full-time major-leaguer for only one season. But he just turned 23 years old and if he progresses as expected, and assuming what they’ve witnessed is not an aberration, the contract could amount to a relative bargain.

Wren said the organization has “identified a number of guys” he would like to sign long term but he didn’t identify the number. The safe assumption: shortstop Andrelton Simmons and Minor are next in line.

Right fielder Jason Heyward, another member of the team’s young core, recently signed only a two-year extension and therefore now seems destined to become a free agent after the 2015 season. That one could come back to bite Wren and the Braves.

Wren said Teheran’s deal was agreed to over a week ago but the team had to wait for him to return to the U.S. from Colombia to pass a physical and sign the contract.

Wren didn’t suggest there’s any imminence to other signings, saying only, “They could be done in the next couple of years. It’s not something we have to get done in 2014.”

But at least for the future, there are two less things for the Braves to be concerned about.

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