SBD/February 5, 2014/Franchises

Free-Wheeling: Braves Sign Freddie Freeman To Club-Record $135M Contract

Freeman's contract surpasses Chipper Jones' franchise-record deal
Braves 1B Freddie Freeman "reaped a blizzard of cash" yesterday with a franchise-record, eight-year, $135M contract "a week before a scheduled arbitration hearing," according to David O'Brien of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. Freeman’s contract extension "buys out all three of his arbitration years as well as five free-agent years, and far surpassed the previous franchise-record deal" -- a $90M extension that retired 3B Chipper Jones signed before the '01 season. Braves GM Frank Wren said that he "didn’t relent on the team’s 'file and trial' stance that eschews negotiations with players after the salary-exchange date." Rather, he said that that strategy "applied to one-year contracts and never precluded the team from discussing multiyear deals with the three who were unsigned" -- Freeman, RF Jason Heyward and P Craig Kimbrel. Freeman’s contract has an average annual value of $16.875M, topping the $15.05M average of the five-year, $75.25M deal CF B.J. Upton signed last winter, the "largest free-agent contract in franchise history" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 2/5). The Braves also signed RF Jason Heyward to a two-year, $13.3M deal yesterday, and MLB Network's Dan Plesac said, “I think the Braves looked at this realistically and said, ‘We have two every day, marquee players. If we go out and test the free agent market, we’re probably not going to be able to keep both'" ("Intentional Talk," MLB Network, 2/4).

THE NEW FACE OF THE FRANCHISE: CBSSPORTS.com's Matt Snyder wrote Freeman's contract "tells you that the franchise is fully committed" to him being the "face of the franchise for a better part of a decade" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/4). ESPN.com's Dave Schoenfield wrote Freeman's contract is "a safe bet for the Braves." Schoenfield: "You get Freeman's age-24 through age-31 seasons, exactly the years you want for a first baseman who doesn't run well" (ESPN.com, 2/4). MLB Network’s Jon Hart said, “You have a chance to get him during his prime, and I think you have a chance to send a great message to your fan base that you're going to keep your core star players intact. I think it sends a good message top to bottom in the organization” (“Clubhouse Confidential,” MLB Network, 2/4). In Atlanta, Mark Bradley writes, "If you’re a Braves fan, you cannot be anything but ecstatic over Tuesday’s doings, the Freeman part especially" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 2/5).

ONLY KIMBREL LEFT AT ARBITRATION
: In Atlanta, O'Brien notes the Braves in signing Freeman and Heyward avoided "going to hearings with two of their three young stars who were unsigned after last month’s arbitration salary-swap day." But unless they "work out a multiyear deal with Kimbrel before Feb. 17 -- and that seems unlikely -- the Braves face the possibility" of paying him $9M in '14. That would "obliterate the record first-year arbitration salary for a reliever and represent nearly a 13-fold raise" over Kimbrel’s '13 salary. If Kimbrel is awarded the $9M salary, he could "expect to get at least" $14M in '15 if he "hasn’t signed a long-term extension and goes through the arbitration process again." Kimbrel at that price "could strain the payroll" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 2/5). ESPN.com's Buster Olney writes the Braves "almost certainly cannot afford to keep Kimbrel." But the contract with Freeman "gives the Braves' front office a greater foundation on which to explain to the fan base that difficult choices have to be made -- and while a trade of Kimbrel will be very difficult, whenever it happens, the signing of Freeman could make it easier for fans of the Braves to swallow" (ESPN.com, 2/5).
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