It is pretty safe to say that, for years to come, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals will be duking it out for the NL East, going blow for blow every year in what has become a top-heavy division.
The Braves added quite a wrinkle to that rivalry yesterday as they extended two of their young players. Jason Heyward signed a two-year, $13,3 million deal, while the new face of their franchise Freddie Freeman signed to an eight-year, $135 million contract, locking him up through his age 32 season.
Freeman has become one of the league’s better (or best) first baseman, posting three straight 20-plus home run seasons, as well as coming off of a .319 batting average 2013 that followed a .259 2012. Needless to say, the Braves, who have not made many big moves this offseason, made major preemptive moves with Heyward and Freeman.
With the retirement of Chipper Jones, it is easy to say that Freeman is the face of the Atlanta franchise. His counterpart as the face of a franchise is Bryce Harper, who needs no introduction. All Harper has done is have two of the best age-19 and age-20 seasons in baseball history, all while playing with a bad knee in 2013.
As previously mentioned, Harper and the Nationals are inching ever closer to what could become a very hotly-contested contract dispute, and what could become one of the most fascinating contract negotiations in recent memory, if not of all time. So, what could the Freeman extension mean for Harper’s next deal?
Well, let’s take a look at the numbers first, shall we? Freeman, in his first three full seasons, has posted a slash line of .287/.361/.468 with 67 home runs and 279 RBIs. A 162-game average for Freeman gives him 22 home runs and 93 RBIs. Harper has played a year less than Freeman, but has still posted a respectable .272/.353/.481 slash line with 42 home runs and 117 RBIs, or 26 home runs and 74 RBIs over a 162 game average.
Harper unarguably has more potential than Freeman does, and it can be said if Harper did not miss a month in 2013, he would probably have eclipsed the 30-HR mark, especially with the hot start he was on before he hit a certain wall.
Freeman’s deal gives him an average annual value of $16.875 million per year, which is a considerable raise from the $560,000 he made in 2013. Harper’s contract spiked from $500,000 in 2012 to $2 million in 2013, and he is in line for another raise that will see him make $2.15 million in 2014.
This means that Harper’s next deal, which will most likely be long-term, will definitely eclipse Freeman’s average value within the first year of the contract and only go up from there. It’s really not that hard to envision Harper signing a deal this time next year somewhere in the neighborhood of eight years and at the very least around $160-175 million.
Freeman’s contract is a nice starting point for Harper and the Nationals, but it would be silly to think the deal is not completely blown away when the dust settles. Harper and Freeman are both left-handed hitters, but Harper has way more potential than Freeman without a doubt. He will easily become one of the youngest $250 million players, if not the first $300 million player.
And he will have Freeman to thank, in some capacity, for giving him the starting point in those negotiations.