Freeman gets eight-year extension, Heyward two
First baseman's club-record deal worth $135 million; outfielder set to make $13.3M
ATLANTA -- Instead of taking Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward to salary arbitration hearings next week, the Braves gave the pair further reason to believe they both could serve as the cornerstones of the franchise's future.
While Heyward has the comfort of knowing he will never again have to worry about the arbitration process, Freeman has the comfort that comes courtesy of the franchise-record eight-year, $135 million contract he agreed to Tuesday night.
"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."
There is a chance Heyward could sign a similar deal within the next couple of years. But coming off an injury-tarnished season, the 24-year-old outfielder has reason to feel good about the fact that he avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $13.3 million deal that was announced Tuesday morning.
Heyward's deal includes award bonuses and performance bonuses that could escalate his 2015 salary.
"You never know what is going to happen with the business side of things," Heyward said. "You know what you want and you know you have to be prepared for the worst. I knew my agents were going to work with the Braves on something."
Before Freeman reached this agreement, the six-year, $90 million contract Chipper Jones signed in 2000 stood as the longest commitment the Braves had ever made to a player. The $15.02 million average annual salary B.J. Upton earns via his current contract had stood as the highest in franchise history.
Freeman, who finished fifth in last season's National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting, will make an average of $16.875 million annually over the length of this eight-year deal that will expire after the 2021 season, when he is still just 32 years old.
With Heyward and Freeman reaching agreements, Craig Kimbrel stands as Atlanta's only unsigned arbitration-eligible player. While the club has discussed the possibility of a multiyear deal with Kimbrel, it appears the closer will have to go to St. Petersburg, Fla., on Feb. 17 for an arbitration hearing that will determine his 2014 salary.
When the Braves did not reach agreements with Kimbrel, Freeman or Heyward before salary arbitration figures were exchanged on Jan. 17, Wren confirmed that he would stick to his file-and-trial policy. Clubs that use this philosophy opt not to continue negotiating one-year deals from the time of the exchange until the hearing is scheduled.
Wren said the fact that the Braves reached multiyear agreements with Heyward and Freeman does not indicate the club loosened its file-and-trial stance.
"We have no exceptions, unless we are talking about a multiyear contract," Wren said. "That has always been our policy."
Freeman batted .285 with 68 home runs and an .825 OPS through his first three-plus Major League seasons. The 24-year-old first baseman displayed his tremendous potential last year, when he batted .319 with 23 homers and a career-high 109 RBIs.
Heyward's arbitration status this year was made more challenging by the fact that two unavoidable ailments -- an emergency appendectomy and a fractured jaw -- forced him to endure separate one-month stints on the disabled list.
After getting off to a slow start, Heyward turned things around in June and was playing as well as he ever has during the first six weeks after the All-Star break. His impressive surge was halted on Aug. 21, when Mets left-hander Jon Niese drilled the left side of Heyward's face with a fastball.
Heyward returned for the final week of the regular season and remained at the top of Atlanta's lineup through the end of the club's postseason run. He ended up hitting .254 with 14 home runs, 38 RBIs and a .776 OPS. Given the fact he entered June hitting .146, the numbers did not accurately depict the value Heyward provided when he was healthy and productive during the season's final four months.
"I think in Jason's case, [a two-year deal] is probably a good thing," Wren said. "Last year was such a tough year for him physically, through no fault of his own, with the appendectomy and getting hit in the face. So it also made it tough for both sides in an arbitration situation. It made it hard to pin a number when comparing to players who played a lot more or a lot less."
Heyward admitted the potential arbitration hearing served as a distraction as he prepared for the start of Spring Training. He and Freeman both plan to be in camp next week. Braves pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout on Feb. 13.
"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."