It obviously takes two sides to sign a contract. The Braves probably wish the business of baseball wasn't so clear cut.
The Diamondbacks signed first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year extension worth $32 million before the 2013 season. They locked up his prime years before he had his breakout campaign, basing the commitment on player evaluation and not past performance.
It worked. In his final cost-controlled season before the extension kicks in, Goldschmidt hit .302/.401/.551/.404 wOBA/156 wRC+ with 36 home runs to total 6.4 fWAR. Based on FanGraphs $/WAR, he was worth $32 million this year. His cost-controlled year earned him $500,000. The first year of his extension gives him $1.1 million, and the highest annual total he will receive in the five years is $11.1 million.
Like I said, it worked for the Diamondbacks. Now compare Goldschmidt with Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman:
Freeman 2012: 620 PA, .259/.340/.456/.342 wOBA/116 wRC+, 23 HR, 1.8 fWAR
Goldschmidt 2012: 587 PA, .286/.359/.490/.363 wOBA/124 wRC+, 20 HR, 2.9 fWAR
Freeman 2013: 629 PA, .319/.396/.501/.387 wOBA/150 wRC+, 23 HR, 4.8 fWAR
Goldschmidt 2013: 710 PA, .302/.401/.551/.404 wOBA/156 wRC+, 36 HR, 6.4 fWAR
Goldschmidt is the better player all-around, including defense, so I'm not directly comparing the two. The purpose is to compare the improvement the two had from one season to the next. They both experienced their breakout season in 2013.
Goldschmidt's breakout was a pretty safe bet. He mashed in the minors and had made solid line drive contact in his first two years in the big leagues.
Freeman's was similar, just on a slightly lower tier. He hit well in the minors and had equally impressive line drive rates before 2013.
The Braves attempted to initiate talks with Freeman on an extension before this past season, but both Freeman and Jason Heyward turned down the conversation. Arizona is now making out like bandits for Goldschmidt's production because they made the (tiny) leap of faith by locking him up before he firmly established himself. Atlanta couldn't do so with Freeman, and the Braves are now looking at an established 24-year-old already in the second tier of first basemen.
By no means is this a negative post on the Braves. They can't help if Freeman didn't walk to talk about an extension. If anything, it should be a positive view on Atlanta because it attempted to lock up the first baseman at the correct time. I commend the Braves for this line of thinking. It's exactly what they should be doing.
So while the Diamondbacks will reap the rewards of their perfectly timed extension with Goldschmidt, the Braves are now facing the ever-difficult task of locking up an established Freeman. The Braves showed excellent thinking in attempting to lock him up before his breakout season but, unfortunately, it takes two sides to sign a contract.
How difficult will it be to lock up Freeman now? He isn't in line to get a Joey Votto-type $225 million deal over 10 years, but he's in a second tier where he could earn up to $15 million a year. Allen Craig got a reduced amount based on injury history and his highest annual total with the Cardinals is $11 million. Nick Swisher's next three years with the Indians are worth $15 million each. Adam LaRoche will be paid $12 million by the Nationals next season and has a $15 million mutual option in 2015.
So it's not out of reach for the Braves to lock up Freeman when the time comes, but the price between last year and this year probably increased by $6-8 million. That might be enough to affect other extension possibilities for the Braves core, including Heyward and Andrelton Simmons.