Freddie Freeman will be hugging more people than usual — and he's already a prolific hugger.
The Atlanta Braves first baseman has agreed to a contract extension with the team that will pay him $135 million over eight years. The Braves confirmed the deal was done and Peter Gammons reported the financials. Fox Sports' Jon Morosi was first to report the deal was pending.
Freeman, 24, avoids a looming arbitration hearing and will now be in a Braves uniform through 2021 when he'll be 32 years old. He's also now the owner of the largest contract in franchise history and the first Braves player to sign a contract worth more than $100 million. Chipper Jones' six-year, $90 million deal in 2001 was the previous high, but baseball has gotten a lot more expensive since then.
The Braves were spenders on Tuesday. They signed a new two-year dealwith outfielder Jason Heyward for $13.3 million, also avoiding arbitration. That wipes out two of the three arbitration hearings that the Braves were supposed to go through with their young stars in coming weeks. Only closer Craig Kimbrel remains in arbitration limbo. Of the three, Kimbrel and the Braves were most divided. He asked for $9 million, the team offered $6.55 million.
The team has a "file and trial" strategy for arbitration-eligible players. It doesn't negotiate after the two sides exchange offers. Most teams meet in the middle to avoid hearings, but the Braves strictly adhere to their policy. That is, except when they're negotiating a multi-year deal. It's why Heyward signed his deal, why Freeman can start diving into money like he's Scrooge McDuck and why Kimbrel's reps are probably on the phone with Braves GM Frank Wren wondering what kind of money they can get.
Locking up Freeman makes sense for Atlanta. He's 24 and still getting better. He'll cost less now than he would when he hits free agency in 2017. The annual average value of the contract would be about $16.87 million, which is close to what Mike Napoli will make this season.
Freeman was fifth in NL MVP voting last season, hitting .319/.396/.501 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. He realized his potential and became the most valuable offensive player for the Braves. His 5.4 Wins Above Replacement value (per Baseball-Reference.com) was second on the team to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whose WAR mostly comes from his defensive prowess.
The contract goes against some of the monster deals we've seen in recent years, where a player at or near 30 signs a 10-year contract and decline is pretty much a given toward the end. We're looking at you, Albert Pujols.
But the Braves aren't going to give a player a contract like that anyway. Freeman's contract is more like Clayton Kershaw's recent extension with the Dodgers. It locks down the prime years, and gives Freeman a chance for another big payday when he's 32. Freeman should be happy about that, and the Braves should be happy they won't have to fend off $200 million-plus contract offers in 2017 to keep Freeman around.
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