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Tuesday May 26th, 2015 3:52AM

Freeman humbled by biggest deal in Braves' history

By The Associated Press
Freddie Freeman says he won't try to change to prove he deserves the biggest contract in Atlanta Braves' history.

"I'm going to go out there and just keep trying to get better," he said Wednesday, a day after his $135 million, eight-year deal was finalized. "I progressively got better the last three years. Hopefully, I can stay healthy and continue to do so. I'm not going to try to put extra pressure, just go out there and keep doing what I've been doing."

Freeman already has plans on how to spend some of the money.

"The first thing I've got to do is pay for a wedding," he said, looking ahead to the Nov. 22 ceremony.

Freeman's fiance, Chelsea Goff, sat in the front during the news conference alongside the player's father. She said planned to shop for a wedding gown on Thursday.

Freeman gets a $2,875,000 signing bonus, of which $1,875,000 is payable on May 1 and $1 million on July 1. He receives salaries of $5,125,000 this year, $8.5 million in 2015, $12 million in 2016, $20.5 million in 2017, $21 million in each of the following two years and $22 million in each of the final two seasons.

The agreement covers three arbitration-eligible seasons and five years in which he could have become a free agent.

Freeman's deal tops the $90 million, six-year contract for Chipper Jones that covered 2001-06 and came one year after the Braves gave outfielder B.J. Upton the biggest contract for a free agent in team history - $75.25 million for five years.

Upton struggled in his first year in Atlanta, hitting only .184 and losing his starting job. After the season, general manager Frank Wren said Upton may have felt too much pressure.

Wren said Freeman can handle the long-term deal.

"One of the things we were looking at was ... the right timing," Wren said. "Has the player established himself well enough that this won't affect him one way or the other? This was the perfect timing for us."

Freeman, 24, has played only three full seasons. He was an All-Star last year, when he hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. He matched his career high in home runs, set highs in batting average and RBIs and finished fifth in NL MVP voting. He has topped 20 home runs in three straight seasons.

"He keeps getting better," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I think before all this is said and done, it's going to be a contract that's well worth it because he's going to keep getting better. His numbers are going to keep getting better. Last year he set out to drive in 100 runs. And he did it."

Freeman said he was humbled to receive the long extension so early in his career.

"For them to believe in me with this kind of contract is truly an honor, humbling," he said. "But to happen this young, I never thought it would be even possible."

Freeman then paused before adding with a huge grin "But I'm happy!"

In addition to his salary, he would get a $500,000 bonus if he's NL MVP, $1 million if he wins the award a second time and $1.5 million for a third. He gets $200,000 if he's second through fifth in the voting.

In addition. Freeman receives $50,000 apiece for All-Star selection and World Series MVP, and $25,000 each for Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and league championship series MVP.

Outfielder Jason Heyward and the Braves agreed Tuesday to a $13.3 million, two-year contract. Heyward and Freeman had filed for salary arbitration last month. Closer Craig Kimbrel is the Braves' only player left in arbitration.

The Braves' biggest news of the offseason was their surprising plans to open a new stadium in 2017 in suburban Cobb County. Wren said expectations for increased revenue from the new stadium played a role in Freeman's deal.

"We looked to how we could strategize to make that happen," Wren said. "And I think there's also the element of the new situation in Cobb County three years from now that allows us to be more competitive. And I think that's evidenced by this signing."
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