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Braves sign Freeman to eight-year deal, Heyward for two

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The Canadian Press
2/4/2014 8:26:04 PM
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ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves agreed to eight-year contract with first baseman Freddie Freeman that is worth about $125 million on Tuesday.

The deal was confirmed by the team on Tuesday night.

Earlier in the day, outfielder Jason Heyward and the Braves agreed to a $13.3 million, two-year contract. Heyward and Freeman had filed for salary arbitration last month.

The 24-year-old Freeman was an All-Star last year when he hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. He matched his career high in home runs and set highs in batting average and RBIs which finishing fifth in NL MVP voting. He has topped 20 home runs in three straight seasons.

"Freddie has established himself as one of the best young talents in the game," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We are excited to sign one of our own homegrown players to a contract that will keep him in a Braves uniform for the next eight seasons."

Closer Craig Kimbrel is the Braves' only player left in arbitration.

Heyward, also 24, and Freeman are key members of the Braves' core of young stars. Kimbrel, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, outfielder Justin Upton and starting pitchers Julio Teheran and Mike Minor are 26 or younger. Evan Gattis, 27, is replacing Brian McCann as the starting catcher.

Heyward was happy to avoid arbitration.

"In my head it basically says to me, let's go play some baseball," he said.

Heyward is coming off an injury-filled season, and Wren said the relative lack of playing time complicated the arbitration process and helped make the two-year contract possible.

Heyward hit .254 with 14 homers and 38 RBIs in a career-low 104 games during his fourth season with the Braves. He had an appendectomy on April 22 and broke his jaw on Aug. 21 when he was hit by a pitch from New York Mets left-hander Jon Niese.

"Last year was such a tough year physically, through no fault of his own, with the appendectomy and getting hit in the face," Wren said. "So it also made it tough for both sides in an arbitration situation because it's hard to pin a number when you're comparing to players who played a lot more."

Heyward said he has moved past his injuries.

"Physically, I feel great, being 24 years old and being blessed with some genetics to go along with that," he said. "I'm growing up still in this game and I'm looking forward to what my body is going to allow me to do going forward."

Heyward's deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus, payable in equal installments on May 1 and July 1, and salaries of $4.5 million this year and $7.8 million in 2015.

The 2015 salary would escalate based on a points system for 2014 accomplishments, going up $500,000 for 20 points and then by $25,000 for each additional point. Heyward would earn 10 points each for 502 plate appearances, All-Star game selection, a Gold Glove award, a Silver Slugger award and finishing 11th-to-20th in MVP voting. He would receive 15 points for 6th-to-10th in MVP, 25 points for third-to-fifth and 35 points for first or second.

Heyward enjoyed his best season in 2012, when he hit .269 and set career highs with 27 homers, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

Heyward's injuries did not prevent him from showcasing his versatility. A 2012 Gold Glove winner in right field, Heyward started 20 games in centre last year.

He spent most of the season hitting second in the order before he was moved to the leadoff spot by manager Fredi Gonzalez on July 27. Over his next 22 games, Heyward hit .349 with five homers, 15 RBIs and 23 runs.

Heyward is projected as Atlanta's leadoff hitter.

"He provides a great presence," Wren said. "The one thing we saw, especially after Fredi moved him to the leadoff spot, it allowed him to utilize his speed, it allowed him to utilize his ability to get on base even to a greater degree.

"I think other teams felt pressure from the very first pitch of the game, because all of a sudden now you've got a 6-foot-6, 230-pound leadoff hitter that can do some damage from the get-go. That came back to us time and time again, that there's no let up. It starts right away."

Heyward is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. He had asked for a raise from $3.65 million to $5.5 million in arbitration and had been offered $5.2 million.

Jason Heyward (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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