Generally speaking, a team is better off splurging on a homegrown product than on someone else’s player. (Lowe and Upton were free agents; Uggla was acquired from the Marlins via trade and then given a new contract.) The Braves know Freeman — and Heyward, too — in a way that they couldn’t have known Lowe or Upton or Uggla. They drafted both. They developed both. A Braves employee has watched every professional move the two have made.
Nobody is qualified to assess these two in the way the Braves are, and it’s revealing that Freeman was given many more dollars and years. Heyward’s new deal runs through the 2015 season, after which he can file for free agency. Freeman’s contract would make him eligible for the Hall of Fame — note that I didn’t say worthy of the Hall of Fame — before he’s eligible for free agency. At this moment, the Braves regard Freeman as more essential than the guy who was considered baseball’s No. 1 prospect in 2010.
In a poll on AJC.com last week, 56.8 percent of the respondents identified Freeman as the young Brave they'd most want to keep. (Andrelton Simmons was second, Craig Kimbrel third, Heyward fourth and Julio Teheran fifth.) Once considered the Robin to Heyward's Batman, Freeman has been more consistent in three full big-league seasons than his minor-league roommate has in four. This isn't to say that Heyward hasn't been good; it is to say that Freeman is bordering on great.
When last the Braves moved so boldly to keep one of their youngsters, the year was 2007 and the player was Brian McCann, then 21 months removed from his big-league debut. He signed what would become a seven-year contract at $40 million. Much more was required to keep Freeman because he had a longer body of work, already was arbitration-eligible and because baseball salaries only fatten with time. But the McCann contract proved money well spent, and Freeman’s could, too.
It also could not. That’s the downside of pre-emptive extensions. They look awful if it turns out a young player has topped out. But the Braves have reason to believe they know what they’re getting, and nothing suggests that Freeman can’t or won’t get even better. Of all the gifted young Braves, he and Simmons stood as the two most important. One of them has been secured, at age 24, for eight more seasons. That’s a heck of a big deal.