When Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren went on a spending spree this offseason, many of the Braves’ young stars were rewarded with long-term deals. The team locked down Craig Kimbrel for four years, Julio Teheran for six, Andrelton Simmons for seven, and Freddie Freeman for eight.
However, Jason Heyward signed just a two-year deal solely to prevent the two sides from having to go through arbitration. As good as Kimbrel, Teheran, Simmons and Freeman are, Heyward still has the potential to be the best of the bunch. The two-year deal Heyward signed means that if his potential ever does come to fruition, it will probably happen in another uniform.
This may not be the most popular opinion among Braves fans as Heyward only has six hits in 39 at-bats so far this season. However, Heyward started off equally slow last year, hitting only .121 before having an emergency appendectomy in late April. After returning from that injury, he hit .278 for the remainder of the season and provided a needed spark at the top of the lineup.
Heyward’s numbers will again steadily improve as the year moves on, and the power he’s shown early on indicates that he could possibly reach the 30-HR plateau.
There are other parts of Heyward’s game that are just as valuable. In 2012, when he didn’t have to battle freak injuries, he stole 21 bases and won a Gold Glove. He’s also a veteran leader in the locker room. Heyward is the longest-tenured Braves player on the roster, always gives max effort, and is rarely seen complaining or hanging his head. Those qualities make it even harder to believe that he’s only 24 years old.
When Heyward’s contract ends after next season, he will be entering the prime of his career. The Braves had the opportunity to lock him down long-term to go with their other young stars, but passed. Teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox have much more money at their disposal than the Braves, and all of them would love to add a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder who can hit 30 home runs and steal 20 bases.
Unless Heyward is willing to take a hometown discount, Braves fans will likely miss out on the best years of the young right fielder’s career.
Walter Bergeson is an Atlanta Braves writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on twitter @WalterBSports or add him to your circles on Google+