Braves stars Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward agree to multi-year deals

Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman combined to hit 37 home runs while helping the Atlanta Braves win the NL East title in 2013.

Brett Davis/Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves’ front office was quite busy this week.

After announcing that outfielder Jason Heyward sidestepped MLB’s arbitration process, the two parties agreeing to a two-year contract through the 2015 season on Sunday night, reports soon followed that first baseman Freddie Freeman, who finished 5th in the NL MVP voting last season, also agreed to a multi-year deal.

Heyward’s deal is reportedly worth $13.3 million and it buys out his remaining arbitration-eligible seasons.

Freeman’s new contract, on the other hand, is a long-term extension and the largest in franchise history: eight years worth $135 million, according to multiple reports. The deal was first reported by FOX Sports 1 MLB Insider Jon Morosi, with the team confirming the contract’s length on Tuesday night.

"Freddie has established himself as one of the best young talents in the game," Braves general manager Frank Wren said in a statement. "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."

The deal buys out Freeman’s remaining three years of arbitration and his first five seasons of free agency at the average rate of $16.875 million per year.

Though Wren and the front office remain steadfast as a "file-and-trial" team in arbitration dealings, that philosophy does not limit the organization to negotiating multi-year deals. And it’s clear that avoiding present and future arbitration dealings with two of its best players is viewed as a definite positive for the organization.

"Baseball is the most important thing here. And if we don’t have to sit here and go back and forth about the arbitration process, determining your likes and don’t likes, pros and cons and whatnot — to me that’s not what’s most important," Heyward said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "So as far as a two-year deal, from my side of things and my point of view, it clears things up for me to go play baseball and not to be concerned about this year with arbitration, next year with arbitration."

"I think in Jason’s case, this is probably a good thing. Last year was such a tough year physically for him, by no fault of his own, with an appendectomy and getting hit in the face. And so it also made it tough for both sides in an arbitration situation because it’s hard to pin a number when you’re comparing to players who played a lot more or a lot less or whatever," Wren said. "Jason’s an important part of our team. This probably was the best way to answer some of those questions on both sides."

Freeman was unavailable for comment as of Tuesday night.

The All-Star first baseman’s contract surpasses Chipper Jones’ six-year, $90 million deal signed in 2001 as the most lucrative deal ever signed by a Braves player.

Freeman became a steadying force in the middle of manager Fredi Gonzalez’s lineup last season, hitting .319/.396/.501 and 23 home runs. Just 24 years old, the team’s hitting coach Greg Walker has called him the most gifted hitter he’s ever worked with and it became more and more apparent that he would become a priority for the organization as free agency loomed in 2017. That is no longer an issue.

Heyward’s two-year deal offers performance elevators in the second season. Initial discussions between the two sides began following MLB’s salary swap day (Jan. 17) — Wren characterized it as a two-week or 10-day stretch of negotiations (and it’s probably safe to assume Freeman’s followed a similar timeline).

Given Heyward’s "unique situation" — the mere $300,000 difference in arbitration asking price, the timing of the hearing, the injury-muddled statistics (appendectomy, fractured jaw) — Wren said the outfielder’s contract was the front office’s primary focus.

Well, perhaps one of the franchise’s primary focuses.

The 24-year-old outfielder tallied 14 homers and hit .254/.349/.427 in 104 games last season, including a pivotal stretch in which he batted .322 in the leadoff spot. The one-time Gold Glove winner (2012) also remains one of the top defensive outfielders around with the versatility of playing both right- and center field at a high level. According to FanGraphs, only four other outfielders have posted a higher wins above replacement over the past two seasons: Mike Trout (Angels), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Ben Zobrist (Rays) and Carlos Gomez (Brewers).

The Braves had reportedly had difficulty coming to terms on a multi-year extension with Heyward, and though this deal only takes him up to free agency — where many expect he would fetch a high price given his ability — this at least signifies the two sides are able to get to the bargaining table, even if it was primarily to avoid the arbitration hearings for the remaining two years under team control this time around. Perhaps better news as it pertains to a long-term deal: both Heyward and Freeman are represented by Excel Sports Management.

"It can get in the way," Heyward said of arbitration. "It can be a distraction."

Now, he and Freeman will not have to worry about that.

With Heyward’s and Freeman’s contract situations settled, the Braves’ front office now shifts its focus onto arbitration-eligible reliever Craig Kimbrel — arguably baseball’s premier closer. The team still has a substantial gap between its asking price ($6.55 million) and Kimbrel’s asking price ($9 million), and the heavy lifting, in terms of multi-year deals, is likely over for now.