Business aside, Freeman, Heyward focused on season

Business aside, Freeman, Heyward focused on season

ATLANTA -- Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman know that at some point within the next three weeks, they will attend arbitration hearings that will determine their respective salaries for the upcoming season.

This is obviously a part of the salary-arbitration process they were hoping to avoid. But as they eagerly await the start of Spring Training, neither of the two young players has publicly expressed any hard feelings toward a Braves organization that recognizes them as two of its potential cornerstones of the future.

"When [the hearing] happens, it happens," Freeman said. "That's stuff for my agents. I'll let them deal with it. I just have to get ready for the season. If I have to go down there whenever my hearing is, I'll go down there. Whatever happens, happens."

When Freeman's hearing is held at some point between Feb. 1-21 in St. Petersburg, Fla., he will learn whether his salary will be either his requested figure of $5.75 million or the $4.5 million the Braves have offered.

There might be even more reason for Heyward to feel a sense of displeasure given the fact that just $300,000 separated his request ($5.5 million) and the club's offer ($5.2 million). But like Freeman, the 25-year-old outfielder recognizes the hearing became a seemingly unavoidable part of the process once the Braves decided to become a "file and trial" club.

The clubs that have adopted this philosophy opted not to continue negotiating once salary-arbitration figures were exchanged on Jan. 17. Instead, they viewed the exchange as confirmation that a hearing would determine the salary figure.

"That's just part of baseball," Heyward said. "You expect it, understand it and get caught up to speed. After that, it's 'Play ball.' This is a side that everybody goes through. We all have to do it. After that, just have fun."

Heyward, Freeman, Justin Upton, broadcaster Don Sutton, manager Fredi Gonzalez and bench coach Carlos Tosca were all present on Tuesday morning as the Braves Country Caravan visited suburban Atlanta's Clarkdale Elementary School.

Coming off a memorable season in which he finished fifth in the National League MVP Award balloting, Freeman has spent the past few months working out in the Atlanta area. At the same time, he has kept in regular contact with former teammate Chipper Jones.

Freeman lives close enough to Jones that he smelled the smoke that was created by the small forest fire the former Braves third baseman caused when he dumped fireplace ashes behind his house last week.

"I got in my car, and I was like, 'Something is burning,'" Freeman said. "Then a couple hours later, [Chipper] sent me a text that said, 'I burnt my forest down.'"

Heyward has spent the past couple of months moving past some of the frustration that he experienced courtesy of the unavoidable ailments that forced him to endure separate one-month disabled-list stints last year.

Before his jaw was fractured by a pitch thrown by Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese on Aug. 21, Heyward was in the midst of one of the most impressive stretches of his young career. He returned in time to help the Braves clinch the NL East title on Sept. 22, but he continued playing with some discomfort through the end of the club's postseason run against the Dodgers in the NL Division Series.

While Heyward will gain mental comfort by continuing to wear a protective guard on his batting helmet, he has been given the assurance that his jaw is structurally sound.

"We would have probably finished our division sooner if I didn't [fracture my jaw]," Heyward said. "But that's the way it goes sometimes. Freak injuries happen. But I still had fun, and I was able to come back and clinch a division with my teammates and have some fun in the playoffs."

Though they are just 25 years old, Heyward and Freeman could join Dan Uggla as the only regular position players who were in Atlanta's Opening Day lineup in 2011.

While the Braves will look a little different without mainstays Tim Hudson and Brian McCann, Upton is among those who believe the same young core that helped Atlanta win the division title last year could prove to be just as productive during the upcoming season.

"We'll have a more mature team than last year, because everybody has another year under their belt," Upton said. "I think we'll do nothing but get better."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.