ATLANTA -- Instead of worrying about their upcoming salary arbitration hearings, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman can now place their full attention toward preparing for the upcoming season.
While Heyward has the comfort of knowing he will never again have to worry about the arbitration process, Freeman has the comfort of knowing he is the owner of a long-term deal that stands as the most lucrative in Braves franchise history.
The Braves made some noise Tuesday morning when they announced they had signed Heyward to a two-year contract, which includes a guarantee of $13.3 million and performance bonuses that could escalate the 24-year-old right fielder's 2015 salary.
The club has not confirmed the Freeman deal.
Excitement surrounding Heyward's agreement was trumped less than two hours later by the revelation that the Braves and Freeman were also nearing an agreement on a much more lucrative multiyear deal. Financial details will not be revealed until the Braves' doctors review the result of his physical exam, which was scheduled for Tuesday. But sources have indicated the 24-year-old first baseman's contract could be worth at least $130 million.
With Heyward and Freeman having reached agreements, Craig Kimbrel stands as Atlanta's only unsigned arbitration-eligible player. While the club has discussed the possibility of a multiyear deal with Kimbrel, it appears the closer will have to go to St. Petersburg on Feb. 17 for an arbitration hearing that will determine his 2014 salary.
When the Braves did not reach an agreement with Kimbrel, Freeman or Heyward before salary arbitration figures were exchanged on Jan. 17, general manager Frank Wren confirmed that he would stick to his file-and-trial policy. Clubs that use this philosophy opt not to continue negotiating one-year deals from the time of the exchange until the hearing is scheduled.
Wren says the fact that the Braves reached multiyear agreements with Heyward and Freeman does not indicate the club loosened its file-and-trial stance.
Freeman has batted .285 with 68 home runs and a .825 OPS through his first three Major League seasons. The 24-year-old first baseman displayed his tremendous potential last year, as he batted .319 with 23 homers and a career-high 109 RBIs.
Heyward's arbitration status this year was made more challenging by the fact that two unavoidable ailments -- an emergency appendectomy and a fractured jaw -- forced him to endure separate one-month stints on the disabled list.
After getting off to a slow start, Heyward turned things around in June and was playing as well as he ever has during the first six weeks after the All-Star break. His impressive surge was halted on Aug. 21 when Mets left-hander Jon Niese drilled the left side of Heyward's face with a fastball.
Heyward returned for the final week of the regular season and remained at the top of Atlanta's lineup through the end of the club's postseaon run. He ended up hitting .254 with 14 home runs, 38 RBIs and a .776 OPS.
While the numbers were respectable, given the fact he entered June hitting below .146, they did not accurately depict the value Heyward had provided when he was healthy and productive during the season's final four months.
Heyward admitted that the potential arbitration hearing served as a distraction as he prepared for the start of Spring Training. He and Freeman both plan to be in camp next week. Braves pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout on Feb. 13.
"Playing baseball is the most important thing here," Heyward said. "Now we don't have to go back and forth about the arbitration process and determining likes and dislikes, pros and cons and whatnot. To me, that's not what is the most important."
Heyward batted .333 over his final 31 games of the season, including .322 in 29 games from the leadoff spot. The two DL stints cost him a total of 49 games.
A 2012 National League Gold Glove Award winner, Heyward was the Braves' top Draft pick (14th overall) in 2007, and he made his Major League debut in 2010. He has played in 532 career games, with a .259 batting average, 73 homers and 234 RBIs.
------- Source: MLB.com