The Atlanta Braves took care of the contracts of first baseman Freddie Freeman and right fielder Jason Heyward on Tuesday without needing to go through arbitration, handing Freeman an eight-year deal worth between $125 million and $135 million and signing Jason Heyward to a two-year, $13.3 million contract.
Freeman, now twenty-four years old, had an outstanding 2013 season, posting career highs in batting average (.319), hits (176), home runs (23) RBIs (109), on-base percentage (.396), and slugging percentage (.501) while also establishing himself as one of the best fielding first basemen in all of baseball. Freeman’s ability did not go unnoticed by the rest of Major League Baseball, as he was voted into his first All-Star game and finished fifth in the National League MVP vote, which was won by the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen.
Even though Freeman has played much better than expected and may prove to be the new face of the Braves due to Brian McCann’s departure, the same cannot quite be said of Jason Heyward, a statement made obvious by his new deal. Heyward is definitely still a work-in-progress and still has a great deal of potential, but the former first rounder who is also twenty-four was again hampered with injuries, which explains in part his pedestrian .254 batting average with 14 home runs and 38 RBIs in just 104 games.
Hope is not completely lost in Heyward, who cut down on his strikeouts dramatically last season (down to 73 from 152 in ’12) and played well despite several setbacks with his health, including suffering a broken jaw in late August. Most believe that all it will take for J-Hey to reassert himself as one of the brightest young stars in the sport is just having a year without any freak injuries, and even though wear and tear is incredibly common for any athlete asked to suit up for 162 games in a regular season, fans and the front office must have their fingers crossed that Heyward begins turning heads again.
The re-upping of these two Braves explains why general manager Frank Wren did not pull out the checkbook out this winter and spend big on additions to the roster; he truly believes that the players the team needs to make a World Series run are already there. While this off-season’s free agent pool was lackluster overall (was Bartolo Colon supposed to push this team to the top of the NL?), a great deal of the fan base were disappointed with the Braves’ lack of moves, leaving them to instead find the positives of adding the likes of Ryan Doumit and Gavin Floyd.
Resolving the questions surrounding Freeman and Heyward’s contract situations was certainly important, leaving only one arbitration case left to settle: that of closer Craig Kimbrel. Arguably the best closer in MLB in his three years with the big-league Braves, Kimbrel’s push for $9 million may cause some issues with the team’s front office, as SB Nation’s Noah Jarosh explained thoroughly earlier today. With the financial questions surrounding Kimbrel coinciding with Freeman’s massive payday and Heyward’s hefty cash-in, I have a sinking feeling that this situation will not be resolved soon, even though Kimbrel’s hearing happens on Feb. 17.
Will the Braves be willing to sign off on another big deal for a player that has been as good as it gets on the mound? One associated with the Braves in any form or fashion would definitely scream “Yes!” multiple times on the raising of such a question, but considering how Atlanta has been slow thus far at fulfilling the closer’s wishes so far, the outcome of this soon-to-be standoff will ultimately decide the fate of the Braves for the foreseeable future and come also affect the future of a team like, let’s say, the Yankees, who would shell out the money necessary to land Kimbrel in a New York minute.