Freddie Freeman was introduced as, essentially, the new face of the Braves' franchise.
"I don't ever think of that aspect of the game. I play this game to have fun, and I just try to go out there and work hard. For them to believe in me with this kind of contract, it's truly an honor and humbling," the 24-year-old Freeman said Wednesday as he sat between general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez. "To have it this young, I never thought that would be even possible or imagined that. But I'm happy.
"This is a team that I want to play for for a long time, and I'm happy to be here the next three years. Then going into that new ballpark in Cobb County, it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm happy to be a part of that team."
Wren made it clear that Freeman, who finished fifth in the National League Most Valuable Player Award voting in 2013, is a cornerstone of the Braves' plan as they move forward. But Wren also made sure to point out that Freeman is only one part of Atlanta's future, which includes a talented young core that Wren hopes to keep as well.
"The last couple months, we've been putting together a plan that culminated with this signing, looking at how we could keep our team together, especially our young, homegrown players," Wren said. "We looked at how we could strategize to make that happen, and I think there's also an element of the new [stadium] situation in Cobb County three years from now that allows us to be more competitive, and I think that's evidenced by this signing.
"We put a lot of planning into it and we're excited that we're able to keep one of the best young players in the National League for the next eight years -- three years in this ballpark, five years in the new ballpark, and hopefully much longer after that. I think there's not a more worthy player on our ballclub."
After putting together solid seasons in 2011-12, Freeman took the next step a year ago as he hit .319/.396/.501 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. Wren and Gonzalez both noted Freeman has only improved as he's matured, an important characteristic for any player in whom a team invests so heavily.
"He just keeps getting better. I think there's still a lot more that we're going to see out of him. We always challenge him. I kid him, but it's a challenge," Gonzalez said. "And I think before this is all said and done, this is going to be a contract that's well worth it, because he's going to keep getting better."
"I think when you look at what Freddie's accomplished in his first three years here as our first baseman, I think there was no doubt in our mind that we had found our first baseman, not only for the present, but of the future," Wren added. "He's turned into one of the best players in the National League ... and he just continues to get better. I think that was our focus as we looked at our team going forward. He could be a key component of that, and we wanted to make sure he was here for a long time."