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Outfielder Jason Heyward and Atlanta Braves agree to $13.3 million, 2-year contract

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ATLANTA - Jason Heyward is happy he can report to spring training without having to worry about salary arbitration.

He's even happier he also won't have to worry about the business side of the game next season.

Heyward and the Atlanta Braves agreed Tuesday to a $13.3 million, two-year contract that avoided arbitration.

"In my head it basically says to me, let's go play some baseball," Heyward said.

The 24-year-old is coming off an injury-filled season. General manager Frank Wren said those problems complicated the arbitration process and helped make the two-year contract possible.

Heyward hit .254 with 14 homers and 38 RBIs in a career-low 104 games during his fourth season with the Braves. He had an appendectomy on April 22 and broke his jaw on Aug. 21 when he was hit by a pitch from New York Mets left-hander Jon Niese.

"Last year was such a tough year physically, through no fault of his own, with the appendectomy and getting hit in the face," Wren said. "So it also made it tough for both sides in an arbitration situation because it's hard to pin a number when you're comparing to players who played a lot more."

Heyward said he has moved past his injuries.

"Physically, I feel great, being 24 years old and being blessed with some genetics to go along with that," he said. "I'm growing up still in this game and I'm looking forward to what my body is going to allow me to do going forward."

The deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus, payable in equal installments on May 1 and July 1, and salaries of $4.5 million this year and $7.8 million in 2015.

The 2015 salary would escalate based on a points system for 2014 accomplishments, going up $500,000 for 20 points and then by $25,000 for each additional point. Heyward would earn 10 points each for 502 plate appearances, All-Star game selection, a Gold Glove award, a Silver Slugger award and finishing 11th-to-20th in MVP voting. He would receive 15 points for 6th-to-10th in MVP, 25 points for third-to-fifth and 35 points for first or second.

Heyward enjoyed his best season in 2012, when he hit .269 and set career highs with 27 homers, 82 RBIs and 21 stolen bases.

Atlanta acquired brothers B.J. Upton and Justin Upton before the 2013 season, giving the Braves a trio of outfielders with speed and power. B.J. Upton struggled, eventually losing his starting job.

Heyward's injuries did not prevent him from showcasing his versatility. A 2012 Gold Glove winner in right field, Heyward started 20 games in centre last year.

He spent most of the season hitting second in the order before he was moved to the leadoff spot by manager Fredi Gonzalez on July 27. Over his next 22 games, Heyward hit .349 with five homers, 15 RBIs and 23 runs.

Heyward is projected as Atlanta's leadoff hitter.

"He provides a great presence," Wren said. "The one thing we saw, especially after Fredi moved him to the leadoff spot, it allowed him to utilize his speed, it allowed him to utilize his ability to get on base even to a greater degree.

"I think other teams felt pressure from the very first pitch of the game, because all of a sudden now you've got a 6-foot-6, 230-pound leadoff hitter that can do some damage from the get-go. That came back to us time and time again, that there's no let up. It starts right away."

Heyward is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. He had asked for a raise from $3.65 million to $5.5 million in arbitration and had been offered $5.2 million.

The deal leaves two more key players — closer Craig Kimbrel and first baseman Freddie Freeman — as the Braves' only players left in arbitration.

Wren said the team has had "lots of conversations with their agents" but he wouldn't speculate on the chances of reaching agreements.

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