Freddie Freeman's humongous new contract, an eight-year, $135 million deal that is far and away the largest in franchise history, was the first step in what Braves general manager Frank Wren described as a plan to keep together many of the team's top young players for years to come.
"We've looked to solidify our ballclub going forward and literally for the last couple of months, we've been putting together a plan that culminated with this signing," said Wren, seated next to Freeman and manager Fredi Gonzalez during a news conference Wednesday at Turner Field.
"We're looking at how we can keep our team together, especially our young, homegrown players, and we have a lot of collaboration from (Braves CEO) Terry McGuirk and (team president) John Schuerholz to make sure this franchise stays strong." Wren said part of that strategy involves higher revenues the Braves expect from a move in 2017 to a planned new ballpark in Cobb County. Their payroll is expected to climb to about $100 million this season, up from $90 million. It will likely be just below the median major league payroll.
"I'm just looking forward to the next eight years here," Freeman said. "We've got a lot of guys under (contractual) control for a while. We've got a young, dynamic core and they're going to try to keep us together, so it's definitely nice to see." The Braves are counting on increased attendance and revenues at the new ballpark and planned adjoining retail/entertainment village to help offset a local TV deal that's well below recent deals signed by other teams.
"There is an element of the new situation in Cobb County that allows us to be more competitive and I think it's evident by this signing," Wren said. "So over the course of the last two months we put a lot of planning into it and we're excited that we're able to keep one of the best young players in the National League a Brave for the next eight years ... and hopefully much longer after that." Freeman, who finished fifth in the National League MVP balloting in his third season in the majors, got a deal that eclipsed retired star Chipper Jones' six-year, $90 million extension through 2006 as the largest in team history.
"It's truly an honor. It's very humbling," said Freeman, who turned 24 in September and got engaged during the offseason. "This is the team that drafted me in the second round when I was 17 years old and gave me my first opportunity to play professional baseball. It's a team that has great tradition. I put this jersey on with a lot of pride.
"They gave me a chance to come to the big leagues when I was 20 years old and it's been the greatest three-plus years in the big leagues. This is a team I want to play for for a long time." When asked if the magnitude of the contract had set in yet, the affable California native smiled.
"It still hasn't really sank in all the way," said Freeman, whose fiancee, Chelsea Goff, sat in the front row Wednesday, next to his agent, Vic Menocal, and father, Fred. "For (the Braves) to believe in me with this kind of contract (and) to have it happen this young, I never thought that would even be possible." Fred Freeman cancelled his business appointments at work and flew in from California to share the moment with his son.
"Seven years ago his high school senior season was about to start," Fred said with a chuckle. "He was playing high school baseball. Now it's $135 million. It doesn't even compute. He was out fooling around with his buddies, playing high school baseball. Now he's in the majors, wealthy." The contract bought out all three of Freeman's arbitration years and first five years of free agency.
"I haven't looked at the term sheet yet," Freeman said. "I'm just trying to take this all in. It's an amazing experience." Wren was asked about such a big commitment to Freeman, who's now the unofficial "Face of the Franchise." "He's turned into one of the best young players in the National League," Wren said. "And he just continues to get better. I think that was our focus as we looked at our team going forward -- he could be a key component of that and we wanted to keep him here for a long time." Freeman hit .319 with a .396 on-base percentage, 23 homers and 109 RBIs, the Braves' first 100-RBI man since 2007. His .443 average with runners in scoring position was the second-highest in the majors.
"He keeps getting better and I think there's still a lot more that we're going to see out of him," Gonzalez said. "I think before this is all said and done, it's going to be a contract that's going to be well worth it.
"He loves playing the game. It's not a job for him; it's still a game for him and I don't think that's going to change at all."
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