The Atlanta Braves seemed to get uncharacteristic cold feet as arbitration hearings approached and committed over $138.3M to young sluggers 1B Freddie Freeman and OF Jason Heyward. With the bulk of it going to the first baseman. The AP (via Fox Sports) is reporting that that Freeman would be locked up for 8-years, $125M (pending a physical). Earlier in the day, multiple sources, including Mark Bowman of MLB.com, cited that Jason Heyward signed a much more mild 2-year, $13.3M extension, locking him up only through his final arbitration year.
The Atlanta Braves are usually hard and fast when it comes to going to arbitration with a so-called “file and trial” approach. Meaning, after the final salary figures are filed and the deadline passes, they go to “trial” (arbitration). Of course, used as a means to gain moderate leverage for a player who may want to not go through the process. However, they make exceptions for multiyear deals (kind of a loophole, don’t you think???). According to Bowman, GM Frank Wren cites it as strictly business:
“We have no exceptions, unless we are talking about a multiyear contract,” Wren said. “That has always been our policy.”
Jason Heyward, now 24, burst on the scene as a precocious 20-year-old, making the 2010 All-Star game and finishing second behind the deserving Buster Posey for Rookie of the Year. He then struggled in his sophomore campaign to a .227 average along with more injuries. While his 2012 season was a bounce back with career highs in HR (27) and RBI (82) along with a Gold Glove, but the follow-up 2013 season was also tainted by a jaw injury that ended his season in August, while he never got it going at the plate. So if it’s an even numbered year, he produces? Health is the main concern, and the Braves want two more years of kicking the tires to see if he can stay on the field and produce. If he does, they’ll be panned if they don’t sign him to a deal like Freeman’s.
Freddie Freeman, also 24, might have seemed to have just burst on the scene in 2013 for his first All-Star appearance, but has enjoyed three straight 20 home run seasons, this past season augmented by a .319 batting average (third in the NL) and 109 RBI (second in the NL). All that culminated in a 5th place MVP finish. There’s not much to dislike about Freeman’s size, swing, and demeanor. At $15M per year, not a bad gamble for the Braves as he could get in the $20M plus range if he continues this pace. And Freeman will take the guaranteed money and familiar environment in Atlanta where he’s comfortable.
The Atlanta Braves finished 1st in the NL East, 2nd in the NL overall, but only one once out of four games in the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the young talent they’ve built around, they should contend for the next several years, and having these two guys on board won’t hurt. Having the brothers Upton actually produce, now that’s a whole new level.
– David Whitlock