Are Braves and Jason Heyding Toward Longer Extension?

Stephen Dunn

Does yesterday's 2-year extension offer promise of a longer engagement?

After a mostly dull winter, the Braves spiced things up by signing Jason Heyward to a two-year deal and Freddie Freeman to an eight-year deal. Freeman's extension and the fact that the Braves and Heyward could even come to an agreement are encouraging, but what does it mean for Heyward's future?

Probably not much.

As much as we and (probably) the Braves would love to have Heyward around for the next decade, it's never really made sense for Heyward. Focus on extensions usually comes from the team's perspective - Is this player good enough? How much should they give him? - but it leaves out a crucial part of the process - the player, himself. While extensions offer security for the player, they also offer a ceiling on how much that player could make. Theoretically, a player would make more going year-to-year and signing a free-agent contract than taking an extension. That assumes the player stays healthy, productive, etc., of course. But one could always take the chance for more money.

But that assumes we know what motivates Heyward, and we simply don't know that. He may or may not want to be the first $300 million player - few players will reach free-agency at 26 with the talent Heyward has. But circumstances have somewhat colluded against Heyward and the Braves coming to an agreement. Let's recap.

2010: Heyward explodes on to the scene with a home run in first big-league at-bat, and he never really slowed down. A .277/.393/.456 line and 6.4 bWAR later, he had all the leverage. Why would the Braves try to extend Heyward after one season of excellent play without seeing possible regressions? And why would Heyward - knowing his age, etc. - forego what could be a massive pay day if he continued to do so well?

2011: Injuries combine to wreck Heyward's sophomore season. He never could get it going with the plate, and his excellent defense helps him grab 2.6 bWAR. But .227/.319/.389 basically took away most of Heyward's leverage. Believing those injuries wouldn't linger, it didn't make sense for Heyward to sign an extension that would weigh this season pretty heavily. For the Braves, do you extend him, hope the injuries heal, and that he won't be injury prone moving forward?

2012: Heyward recovers for almost 6 bWAR worth of value, but .269/.335/.479 isn't what most expected - a lot of strikeouts still, walks dropped dramatically. This is probably the best chance both sides have of working things out. The Braves saw him rebound, and Heyward has proven himself to be a very valuable player. But do the Braves pay on the prospect hype and hope the defense - a skill that declines very early - continues? And does Heyward, who knows he can be better, give in when most of his value is based on a skill that doesn't get paid? This offseason is the best chance the sides have of working something out, but somewhere in the questions above, the sides can't agree.

2013: Injuries again take a chunk out of Heyward's value, but Heyward rebounds after a rough first few months to give nearly 4 wins of value in 100 games. He's clearly a talented player - having played well in 3 of 4 seasons - and the injuries of 2013 were completely random - appendicitis and a broken jaw from a HBP. But he's now 2 years away from free-agency, and with exploding contracts the past few offseasons, he clearly has to see the payday awaiting him. Seemingly having put the nagging injuries behind him, he doesn't seem much of an injury risk, and he's definitely young and talented. You may have laughed at my $300 million suggestion, but he'll probably be in the mid $200 million range if he stays healthy and productive.

Should the Braves and their talented, young right fielder not come to an agreement, there will be a lot of hemming and hawing. Why are the Braves so cheap? Why is Heyward so greedy? But the truth may not fall anywhere in those two areas. The Braves and Heyward may end up victims of circumstance - Heyward's talent and youth, his somewhat roller coaster career to this date, and the new economics ushered in by TV contracts.

Either way, I'm not sure that yesterday's two-year deal changed much. On the surface, it looks like a way to avoid an uncomfortable hearing over less than Julio Teheran will make in 2014 while guaranteeing Heyward a chunk of money for 2015. Before this deal, we didn't think an extension was particularly likely, and I don't think it's really any more likely.

This situation, unfortunately, may just end up as another example that MLB is a business and not the child-like game we like to lie to ourselves that it is. It's sad, but no one seems to be doing anything that doesn't make sense for them.

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