Braves Sign Freeman To 8-year Extension

ATLANTA – Atlanta Braves held a Wednesday press conference to announce their eight-year extension with first baseman Freddie Freeman. Running through the 2021 season, Freeman receives the most lucrative contract in franchise history.

The deal is worth $135 million in total. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Atlanta will pay Freeman a $2.875 million signing bonus. followed by salaries of $5.125 million in 2014, $8.5 million in 2015, $12 million in 2016, $20.5 in 2017, $21 million in both 2o18 and 2019 and $22 million in the 2o20 and 2021 seasons.

The team announced the deal in a press release on Tuesday evening, but did not reveal the financial terms at that time. Multiple sources had confirmed that the two sides had reached an agreement earlier in the afternoon, though the Braves did not issue a statement until just before 8 p.m. as they worked to finalize the terms.

“When you look at what Freddie has accomplished in his first three years here, there was no doubt in our mind that we had found our first baseman not only of the present but of the future.” said Braves general manager Frank Wren. “He’s turned into one of the best young players in the National league… and he just continues to get better.”

Freeman, 24, enjoyed a break-out campaign in 2013, placing fifth in the National League MVP voting. He batted .319/.396/.501 with 23 homers, 109 RBI and 89 runs scored in 147 games, setting career-highs in virtually every offensive category.

“For them to believe in me with this kind of contract, it’s truly and honor and humbling,” said Freeman. “For it to happen this young, I never thought that would be even possible or imagined that.”

At just 24 years old, Freeman becomes Atlanta’s highest paid player in both overall contract value and average annual salary. He surpasses the six-year, $90 million extension that Chipper Jones signed in August of 2000, following his MVP season of 1999.

The salaries will rise incrementally over the eight-year span of the extension, while both sides are able to avoid any further arbitration worries. Freeman’s first significant jump during the contract is 2017, when he goes from $12 million up to $20.5 million. That is the same season he would have been eligible for free-agency as well as the year that the Braves move into their new stadium.

Freeman’s $16.875 million average moves him ahead of B.J. Upton for largest yearly salary in club history. Upton became Atlanta’s highest paid free-agent acquisition just last winter after signing a 5-year, $75.25 million contract ($15.05 million per season).

“[The Braves] gave me a chance when I was 20 years old, called me up to the big leagues and it’s been the greatest three years plus change,” said Freeman. “This is a team that I want to play for for a long time.

Wren added on Wednesday that this move begins what the club hopes to be a series of deals to retain the services of its talented young nucleus for years to come. This vision coincides with the Braves’ upcoming move to a new ballpark located in Cobb County for the 2017 season.

Freeman’s extension was just the first step.

“We were looking at a comprehensive plan,” said Wren. “It wasn’t focused on keeping one player; it was focused on keeping a team, and keeping a competitive team that we could go forward into Cobb County and beyond.”

The team surprised many last November by announcing it had struck a deal to move to suburban Smyrna, leaving behind Turner Field and the city of Atlanta in the process.

“I think the great attribute that Cobb County gives us is that it helps us stay competitive,” added Wren. “It gives us the revenues and the additional ability to stay competitive within our division and that’s an important aspect of it, but this is a comprehensive plan. It’s not just about Freddie, although this is one of the first big steps.”

When it comes to market value, it’s worth noting that this deal is for substantially more than some of Freeman’s first base contemporaries of  similar age and service time have signed in the past 12 months.

Last March, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year, $32 million extension that includes a $14.5 million club option for another season. Goldschmidt, 26, was runner-up for the NL MVP in 2013, batting .302/.401/.551 and leading the NL with 36 homers, 126 RBI, 332 total bases and a .952 OPS.

Not long after the ink had dried on Goldschmidt’s deal, the Chicago Cubs inked Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year, $41 million extension in May. The deal also includes a pair of $14.5 million options for 2020 and 2021 which could bring the overall value to 9-years, and upwards of $70 million including incentives. Rizzo, 24, struggled after the announcement, finishing the year with a .233/.323/.419 line to go with 23 homers and 80 RBI in 160 games.

The Braves may have locked up their young first baseman for more than some clubs, but the deal is for substantially less than the likes of the Reds Joey Votto, Prince Fielder of the Rangers and, of course, Albert Pujols of Angels.

Freeman has proven himself to be one of the best young hitters in the game. Atlanta nabbed him in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft. That was the same year the Braves acquired first baseman Mark Teixeira from the Texas Rangers for a slew of prospects, only to trade him away the following summer for little return.

While that series of moves may be met with universal displeasure in hindsight, the Braves did not compound it by moving heaven and earth to keep the now declining and oft-injured Teixeira around for anything remotely close to the eight-year, $180 million offer he received to join the Yankees prior to 2009.

Instead of making their investment in the 29-year-old Teixeira that winter, the Braves rebuilt from within and used their funds this winter to retain a 24-year-old Freeman for roughly $45 million less over the same eight-year pact.

In all fairness, the funds to extend Teixeira and satisfy his agent Scott Boras were likely not available when the decision was made to deal the first baseman away in 2008, but the fallout from Teixeira’s time with the Braves may finally be in Atlanta’s favor.

At least, in a manner of speaking.

Teixeira’s recent injury history and rapid decline make him one of worst contracts in baseball. He played just 15 games in 2013 and 138 over the past two seasons, batting .240/.325/.460 combined while making $45 million during that time.

And the Yankees will be paying him $22.5 million over the next three seasons as well.

Though the Braves employ a “file and trial” policy with arbitration eligible players who fail to reach agreement prior to the deadline, Wren did not let that deter him from exploring long-term deals.

Atlanta also announced a two-year pact with outfielder Jason Heyward on Tuesday morning. That deal is worth a reported $13.3 million and includes performance bonuses. [More on Heyward]

One arbitration case remains on the docket, however. Closer Craig Kimbrel has requested $9 million, with Atlanta countering with $6.55 million salary offer. Kimbrel’s hearing is set for Feb. 17.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves for Sports Radio 92-9 The Game. Follow Grant on Twitter.

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