As we near this final stretch of days before spring training really gets underway, we’ve reached the point in the winter where there are a few notable free agents remaining, but the real news is going to come in the form of contract extensions. With arbitration hearings on the horizon, many teams are looking to get players locked in on shorter term deals, but some are looking to sign some of their younger pieces to long term contracts.
Such was the case with the Atlanta Braves and Freddie Freeman. The Braves locked up their young first baseman on one of the largest contracts ever for a player with less than four years of service time. The two sides came together on an eight-year, $135 million contract last week to lock up one of their key pieces until he reaches his 30s.
Some have looked at the move as something of a risk for the Braves, as such a heavy investment for a player with such limited time at the big league level is pretty uncommon. Nonetheless, in two of his three years in the Major Leagues, Freeman has clearly established himself as one of the premier first baseman at the game’s highest level.
In his first year in 2011, Freeman showed plenty of promise, as expected. At one point ranked as the fifth best prospect in the organization, he slashed .282/.346/.448/.795. His 2012 season saw a bit of a dip in those numbers, particularly his batting average. But his on-base percentage remained strong, as did his advanced figures, meaning we can attribute that more to the fact that his BABIP dropped almost 50 points. He wasn’t bad, more unlucky.
He proved that as he bounced back completely in 2013, coming out with his best season yet. His strikeout numbers dipped for the second consecutive season, he walked just a bit more (but barely) and he just missed out on reaching base at a terrific .400 clip. His 2013 slash line went .319/.396/.501/.897 and his wRC+ of 150 ranked 10th in all of baseball.
The fact that Freddie Freeman was able to quickly rebound, not that he was actually bad in 2012, illustrates the fact that this isn’t a risk for the Atlanta Braves. Freeman has demonstrated consistency in each of his first three years, in his ability to get on base and hit for power. While his defense isn’t anything special, it has improved quite a bit. This is the type of deal we’ll look back on and talk about how smart the Braves were to get him locked up when they did.