Instead of deciding to take two of their young stars to arbitration hearings next week, the Atlanta Braves rewarded their young stars Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward with contract extensions on Tuesday night. Atlanta avoided arbitration by locking up two cornerstone members of the franchise, agreeing to a franchise record eight year, $135 million contract with first baseman Freddie Freeman.
The Braves also agreed to a two year, $13.3 million dollar contract with outfielder Jason Heyward. Heyward has the comfort of never having to worry about arbitration again, and Freeman has the comfort of knowing he will be secured for the long run.
Freeman, 24, came into form wonderfully last season, batting .319 with 23 homers and a career-high 109 RBI. He would finish fifth in the National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting. Freeman has batted .285 with 68 home runs and an .825 OPS through his first three-plus Major League seasons.
“Freddie has established himself as one of the best young talents in the game,” said Braves general manager Frank Wren. “We are excited to sign one of our own homegrown players to a contract that will keep him in a Braves uniform for the next eight seasons”.
Chipper Jones‘ six year, $90 million deal he signed in 2000 stood as the Braves’ largest deal in franchise history before Freeman’s agreement Tuesday. Freeman is a superstar in the making and is certainly deserving of his new contract.
Heyward, also 24, could receive a similar long-term contract in the future if he can continue to progress. For now, he will attempt to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2013 season, batting a lowly .254 with 14 homers, 38 RBI, and a .776 OPS in just under 105 games. However, Heyward is still young and has plenty of time to form into the player the Braves think he can ultimately be.
“Last year was such a tough year physically, through no fault of his own, with the appendectomy and getting hit in the face,” Wren said. “So it also made it tough for both sides in an arbitration situation because it’s hard to pin a number when you’re comparing to players who played a lot more.”
“In my head it basically says to me, let’s go play some baseball,” Heyward said.
Heyward’s deal includes award bonuses and performance bonuses that could escalate his 2015 salary. His best season came in 2012 when he hit .269 with 27 homers, 82 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and an .814 OPS.
Now that the Braves have locked up Freeman and Heyward, next on the to-do list is signing arbritration-eligible Craig Kimbrel. The Braves and Kimbrel have had previous discussions about a multi-year contract, but talks have stalled and it seems likely that they will have to face their closer on February 17th for an arbitration hearing to determine his 2014 salary.
Fortunately, Freeman and Heyward will not have to worry about that process, as the young stars are secured and can turn their full attention to preparing for the upcoming season. The move is an excellent one made by the Braves, a team that will have two of their young stars locked up for the near future.
“Playing baseball is the most important thing here,” Heyward said. “Now we don’t have to go back and forth about the arbitration process and determining likes and dislikes, pros and cons and whatnot. To me, that’s not what is the most important.”