Freeman lands franchise-record $135 million contract

One week after his pal Chipper Jones rescued him from a snowstorm, first baseman Freddie Freeman reaped a blizzard of cash with a franchise-record eight-year, $135 million contract that surpassed what the Braves once paid Chipper.

The Braves and their All-Star first baseman finalized the deal Tuesday, a week before a scheduled arbitration hearing.

Freeman’s contract extension runs through 2021 — buying out all three of his arbitration years as well as five free-agent years — and easily tops the previous franchise-record deal, a six-year, $90 million extension that Jones signed before the 2001 season.

“Freddie has established himself as one of the best young talents in the game,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We are excited to sign one of our own homegrown players to a contract that will keep him in a Braves uniform for the next eight seasons.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Braves also signed right fielder Jason Heyward to a two-year, $13.3 million contract, buying out his last two arbitration years before free agency.

Freeman gets a $2.875 million signing bonus, then salaries of $5.125 million in 2014, $8.5 million in 2015 and $12 million in 2016. The salary jumps to $20.5 million in 2017, then $21 million in 2018 and 2019, and $22 million in the last two years of the deal, 2020 and 2021.

The salary increase comes in what would’ve been his free-agent years, and coincides with the Braves’ planned move into a new Cobb County ballpark in 2017, where they expect to have significantly increased revenues.

Freeman is coming off a breakthrough performance in his third season. He ranked fifth in the National League MVP balloting after batting .319 with a .396 on-base percentage, 23 homers and 109 RBIs, the Braves’ first 100-RBI man since Jones and Jeff Francoeur in 2007.

On Jan. 28, Jones drove his all-terrain vehicle an estimated 10 miles through the Atlanta-area suburbs to pick up Freeman, who was among thousands of drivers stranded in traffic for hours on area highways after a winter storm paralyzed the area.

Freeman, a 6-foot-5 California native, just turned 24 in September. Now he has a contract with an average annual value of $16.875 million, topping the $15.05 million AAV of the five-year, $75.25 million deal that center fielder B.J. Upton signed last winter — which was and is the largest free-agent contract in franchise history.

A few years ago, it was assumed that Heyward was the Brave most likely to someday get a nine-figure deal.

Freeman was a second-round pick in the 2007 draft out of El Modena High School in Orange, Calif. Heyward was the Braves’ first-round pick that year out of Henry County High in McDonough, and the two prospects became close friends as minor league teammates for three seasons through 2009.

Heyward won a starting job with the big-league Braves at 2010 spring training. After electrifying Turner Field with an opening-day homer and making the All-Star team as a rookie, Heyward was unofficial heir apparent to Jones as Face of the Franchise and next great Braves position player. The Golden Child.

But in the past three seasons, Heyward has been inconsistent and had his career trajectory slowed at times — in part due to injuries — while Freeman has been the Braves’ steadiest hitter since his rookie season in 2011…

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