There have been suspicions that the Braves recently adopted more of a small market mentality, and this deal gives some credence to that thought. Signing a player to a lengthy extension well before he reaches free agency is a play right out of “Small Market Baseball 101.” Freeman is still three years away from free agency, but the Braves probably realize that with free agent prices being what they are, if they didn’t sign him now they would likely be unable to later.
This is a high-risk/high-reward move by the Braves. Freeman has the potential to be one of the best first basemen in the National League, and the contract will cover what should be his prime years. On the other hand, they may have “bought high” on a player who has never hit more than 23 home runs in a single season and whose 5.4 WAR in 2013 was greatly aided by a .371 BABIP.
As for Freeman, it’s possible that he’s leaving potential money on the table, but considering that he’ll only be 31 years when the contract ends, he should still have another chance at a large paycheck if he plays well.
This deal makes it more likely that the Braves will lose outfielder Jason Heyward after the 2015 season. Heyward recently signed a two-year deal with the Braves that bought out his arbitration years, but didn’t delay his free agency. As a result, Heyward will likely either be a free agent after the 2015, or might even be available for a trade after next season. Combined with Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, that makes two very talented National League East outfielders who could be on the move in the next couple of seasons.
The end result is that the 2013 National League East champions have locked up most of their key offensive players for the next two seasons, but it is unclear if that will end up being a good move. The Braves ranked 13th in the majors in runs scored in 2013, but received disappointing contributions from Heyward as well as B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. If those players improve, then the Braves could have one of the best offenses in baseball. If they don’t, then the Braves have pretty much lost the flexibility to make significant changes.