The Atlanta Braves were looking at facing arbitration with first baseman, Freddie Freeman and right fielder, Jason Heyward. By Sunday evening, everything was cleared up between the two stars and the Braves organization.
The Braves and Freeman agreed to an eight year contract worth $135 million on Sunday and reported it on Tuesday that both sides were happy with the deal. This contract is the largest in the history of the Braves organization—surpassing Chipper Jones’ six year, $90 million deal that was signed in 2001.
Braves’ general manager, Frank Wren, stated: “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.” This contract will eliminate Freeman’s remaining three years of arbitration eligibility and five seasons of free agency.
Freeman became a vital part of the organization last season by falling in the middle of the Braves’ lineup, hitting .319/.396/.501 and 23 homeruns. He has also become a strong leader on the team at the young age of 24. Hitting coach, Greg Walker adds that Freeman is the most gifted hitter that he’s ever worked with.
Heyward and the Braves agreed to a two-year, $13.3 million deal on Sunday. When looking at arbitration, Heyward was requesting $5.5 million and the Braves offered $5.2 million for a single-year deal. This two-year contract will expire the remaining arbitration eligibility years for Heyward. The right fielder claims that avoiding arbitration makes it easier for him to just focus on playing ball. As with Freeman’s deal, both sides are happy with the Heyward agreement.
Heyward’s contract was the primary focus of Wren and the rest of the Braves’ front office. Heyward has proved to be an excellent leader and player, but had an inconsistent 2013 season due to injuries. This made it difficult for both sides to agree on a final number. It was hard to compare him to the “best” in the league because he was out with two different injuries (appendectomy and fractured jaw). Therefore, he had far fewer opportunities to prove his worth.
Now, with Freeman and Heyward’s agreements out of the way, closing pitcher, Craig Kimbrel is the main focus of the organization. Kimbrel will face the Braves in arbitration sometime before February 21st. During arbitration, a panel of three members will decide that either Kimbrel is worth his asking $9 million, or settle it with the offered amount of $6.55 million. When salary arbitration occurs in baseball, the panel cannot decide to meet in the middle with the request and offer, but rather, they have to pick one amount or the other. Most organizations and players want to avoid arbitration at all costs, but Kimbrel stands strong on his belief that he deserves a heftier salary than what he was offered. The Braves haven’t entered salary arbitration with a player since 2001 with John Rocker.
Freeman and Heyward will report on February 18th in Orlando with substantial contracts. Subsequently, Braves’ fans will continue to anticipate an exceptional performance by the two on February 26th against the Detroit Tigers.