Franchise-record deal humbles 24-year-old Freeman
Signed for eight years, first baseman poised to usher franchise to new stadium
ATLANTA -- It is now easier to understand why Freddie Freeman was not too concerned after he and the Braves did not agree upon the terms of his 2014 salary before arbitration figures were exchanged Jan. 17. The lack of an agreement created the possibility Freeman's salary would be determined via the results of an arbitration hearing that had been scheduled for next week. But there is little reason to fret about a one-year deal when the possibility of gaining a much longer and significantly more lucrative agreement exists.
Two days before the exchange of the arbitration figures, general manager Frank Wren had called Freeman and said he was planning to begin talking to the player's agents about the possibility of a long-term extension.
Three weeks later, Freeman finds himself celebrating the fact that the eight-year, $135 million contract he signed Tuesday stands as the longest and most lucrative ever extended by the Braves.
"For them to believe in me with this kind of contract, it's truly an honor and humbling," Freeman said. "But having it this young, I never thought it would be possible or could imagine that."
Still just 24 years old and three full years into his promising Major League career, Freeman has the comfort of knowing his average salary over the next eight years will be $16.875 million. While sharing a planned dinner with his good friend and former teammate Chipper Jones on Wednesday night, Freeman might have some fun by reminding the future Hall of Famer that he made just $825,000 during his 24-year-old season.
"The best predictor of the future is history," Wren said. "You look at what the player has done and how he has performed and who he is and how they take care of themselves. Then you try to predict what kind of player he's going to be. The trend line for Freddie is pretty strong. So we felt very comfortable going out in a pretty bold way for this franchise by making the largest commitment ever."
During the many conversations Wren has had with his bosses -- chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk and team president John Schuerholz -- over the past couple of months, he has discussed how to best keep at least some of his young club's core players together through the 2017 opening of the new stadium in Cobb County.
While the Braves will continue to be strapped by the constraints of their current television contract, the new stadium has the potential to generate revenues and escalate the payroll to the point where other players like Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons could be lured to remain in Atlanta with long-term deals.
"We were looking at a comprehensive plan," Wren said. "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 with into Cobb County and beyond. I think the great attribute Cobb County gives us, is it helps us stay competitive. It gives us the revenues and additional ability to stay competitive within our division."
Some media members and fans saw the decision to give Freeman this deal as indicating the club chose him over Heyward. If anything, it served as a reminder that these two highly talented 24-year-olds have traveled a different path over the past couple of years.
While Freeman solidified his market with a 2013 season that earned him a fifth-place finish in National League MVP Award balloting, Heyward endured separate one-month stints on the disabled list because of two unavoidable ailments -- an emergency appendectomy and a fractured jaw.
If Heyward is able to stay healthy and lives up to his tremendous potential, he is more than capable of gaining a deal that would be more significant than what the Braves are currently willing to offer.
With all of this in mind, the Braves determined it would be best to first extend this kind of commitment to Freeman, who hit .319 with 23 home runs and an .897 OPS in 2013. When hitting coach Greg Walker joined Atlanta in 2012, he described the first baseman as the best young hitter he had seen.
"He just keeps getting better," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think there is still a lot more that we're going to see out of him. We always challenge him and kid with him. Before it's all said and done, it's going to be a contract that will be well worth it. His numbers are going to keep getting better."
As Freeman met with media members at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon, he had the pleasure of being accompanied by his fiancée, Chelsea Goff, and his father, Fred Freeman, who flew from the family's Southern California home to celebrate the announcement.
Freeman called his father Sunday night and asked him to travel to Atlanta as soon as possible, because the deal was nearing completion. The proud father arrived at his son's house Tuesday around 11:30 p.m. ET, just a few hours after the Braves had announced the deal.
"This is amazing with the money and everything," Freeman's father said. "But still, the best moment was that time in 2010 when he got called up to the Majors for the first time. That's still the best, but this is pretty close."
The Freemans share a close bond that has strengthened since melanoma claimed the life of Freddie's mother when he was just 9 years old.
As he spoke to his own father earlier this week, the elder Freeman was reminded of the benefits that have come from the countless hours he spent throwing batting practice to his youngest son.
"I wasn't trying to make a Major League Baseball player," Fred Freeman said. "It was just something to do. I just wanted him to play high school baseball. It was just something to kill the time and be together. It was fun. I never saw it any other way than that."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.