Braves quiet concerns with Freeman, Heyward deals

The Braves took a major step toward reassuring their ability to lock up a core player Tuesday.

 

The Braves put to rest the negativity surrounding their lack of long-term deals for core players by giving Freddie Freeman an extension worth in the neighborhood of $100 million. Fox Sports' Jon Morosi reported the deal could be worth up to eight years and $125 million.

 

My guess is the deal will average out to around $15-16 million a year, although the annual amount will likely increase over time. I wrote a couple months ago that the annual rate for second-tier first basemen is around $15 million a year and is what Freeman would currently receive in an extension, so that's in line with what Morosi is reporting.

 

The fact that the Braves are locking up Freeman long-term instead of buying out only his controlled years is tremendous news. There have been concerns that the Braves might have to let their core players walk once they reach free agency, which was only heightened by the three looming arbitration cases for Freeman, Jason Heyward and Craig Kimbrel.

 

Instead, the Braves gave Freeman the Brian McCann treatment by locking up his prime years at a good rate that will only look better in the coming years because of inflation.

 

Among qualified first basemen in 2013, Freeman ranked fourth in fWAR at 4.8. His wOBA ranked fifth at .387, and his batting average was first at .319. Freeman doesn't have the elite power of your typical power-hitting first baseman, but consider only five from the position hit 30 or more home runs last season. He's a true second-tier first baseman, and that's not a knock on Freeman because the first tier consists of maybe three players.

 

If the deal is eight years, Freeman will be 31 at the conclusion, which is when players typically begin to show a decline. If the deal averages around $15-16 million a year, he would likely get paid $16-20 million a year in the final years. In six to eight years, that should be very good value for Freeman's prime. This is Example A of why extensions are so much more friendly than free agent signings.

 

More will be written after the deal is finalized, but for now, Braves fans should rejoice that one of the cornerstones of their offense will be around for his prime years at what should be a good dollar amount for the team.

 

Prior to the Freeman news, the Braves announced the signing of Heyward to a two-year extension. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported the deal totals $13.3 million with performance bonuses available.

 

The extension buys out Heyward's remaining two years of team control, so the deal doesn't include any possible free agent years. It's not a big concern to buy out two years of team control. Most teams benefit more from buying out controlled years early when they can cap the player's yearly earnings and prevent higher arbitration numbers.

 

But it does prevent an arbitration hearing between the Braves and Heyward, and it caps his final controlled year. So if Heyward has a breakout, MVP-type season this year (I'd argue he already had one in 2012, but he's capable of more), he can't ask for a major raise and potentially go through arbitration next year.

 

One can argue this means a better working/negotiating relationship between Heyward's representatives and the Braves in the event of a possible long-term extension, but this remains to be seen. If anything, it might help Heyward feel more at ease with his situation in Atlanta the next two years. It would have been much nicer to learn of a long-term extension out of this, but it's better than nothing.

 

Kimbrel is the last remaining Brave eligible for arbitration. His case is set for Feb. 17.

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