The Atlanta Braves were busy on Tuesday as the team reached deals with first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Jason Heyward. Both players were able to avoid arbitration.
Freeman got the biggest payday from General Manager Frank Wren. The 24-year old first baseman inked an eight-year, $125 million contract extension. This is a guy who has all the tools to be baseball’s next great player for years to come. His contract is the biggest in Braves’ franchise history.
In 2013, Freeman had his best season as a major leaguer. He had a batting line of .319/.396/.501 to go along with an OPS of .897. Freeman belted 23 home runs, batted in 109, and scored 89 runs in 147 games. He is a career .285 batter with 68 home runs, 280 RBIs, and 187 walks. He has a wins above replacement (WAR) of 5.4, which ranks fourth amongst first basemen. Not only can Freeman thump the ball, but he does a solid job defensively as well. He is in the conversation of being the best fielding first basemen in the league.
When he came into the league in 2010, former Brave and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones had high praise for him. When Jones retired in 2012, he said the team was now Freeman’s and the contract extension shows just that. When you have a guy who definitely be in Cooperstown one day saying you are one of the best players in the game today, that says a lot.
Another up and coming player the Braves signed was Heyward, despite an injury-plagued 2013 season. Heyward’s deal is a two-year extension worth $13.3 million, laced with incentives. The outfield in Atlanta features Heyward and the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin. The outfield core is set for a few years and is one of the most promising in baseball, as long as they can cut down on the strikeouts.
Heyward, just like Freeman is only 24 years old. He has a career batting line of .259/.352/.443 with an OPS of .794. He has hit 73 home runs, batted in 234, and scored 293 times. His best season as a MLB player was in 2012 when he hit 27 home runs, 82 RBIs, and scored 93 runs. Injuries brought his numbers down in 2013, but he is fully recovered and ready to get back at it, hoping to help lead the Braves to a World Series title. Similar toFreeman, Heyward is one of the best fielders at his position, with a rocket of an arm to go with great speed and range in the outfield.
Next on the Braves’ agenda is paying closer Craig Kimbrel. The 25-year old is considered the very best closer in the game, now that Yankees’ great Mariano Rivera is now retired. Kimbrel had his best season yet in 2013, saving 50 games for the Braves and 98 strikeouts. He has 139 career saves 46 saves per season in his three full years in the MLB. He has 381 punch-outs, an ERA of 1.39 and a WHIP of 0.90. He has given up 123 hits and 38 runs (35 earned) in his career. He has the chance to one day surpass Rivera’s save record, but that is a long ways away. The most important thing for Wren and the Braves is to get this guy singed long term.
The future is looking bright in Atlanta and will continue to do so once the team moves from Turner Field in downtown Atlanta, to neighboring Cobb County. Freeman and Heyward are two of the premier up-and-coming players in the league and Kimbrel is the best of the best when it comes to guys who are paid to close things out. The Atlanta Braves did the right thing by thinking long-term with its young core of talent.