Less than two weeks after becoming a World Series champion, Freddie Freeman is without a team. The six-foot-five, 220 pound first baseman has been the heart and soul of Atlanta baseball for more than a decade. In that time, he has established himself as not only one of the best hitters in the game, but one of the most beloved . The addition of Freeman would instantly make any team better, but his market of suitors may be surprisingly small.
Freeman returning to Atlanta is perhaps the most obvious fit of any free agent and any team this winter. Nothing is ever a guarantee, but even just the thought of Freeman putting on another uniform seems far fetched as it appears both parties have a vested interest in a reunion.
Atlanta has more than enough financial flexibility to make a large commitment. This flexibility stems from the contract extensions given to Ozzie Albies ($35M/7 years with team options in 2026 and 2027) and Ronald Acuña Jr ($100M/8 years with team options in 2027 and 2028). By locking up these young stars so far below their market value, they are in position to be able to offer the face of their franchise a large contract.
Additionally, the only players set to earn $10 million or more in 2022 are Charlie Morton, Marcell Ozuna (whose status and salary for next season are still in limbo), the aforementioned Acuña, and Dansby Swanson, who Spotrac projects to earn $10.1 million through arbitration.
The Braves have managed to put themselves in a position where they have both locked up their stars (although Swanson has just one more year of control) without having any huge contracts on the books.
Freeman was extended a qualifying offer from his former employer (a one year contract worth $18.4 million) on Sunday, an offer he will undoubtedly decline. Should Freeman sign elsewhere, his former team will at least receive a draft pick as compensation.
Freeman’s departure would leave a massive hole in Atlanta’s lineup and clubhouse. This winter features a relatively thin class of first baseman. Beyond Freeman, San Francisco’s Brandon Belt and former Cub Anthony Rizzo are the most significant primary first basemen on the market. Both seem like suitable replacements, and both will come at a much cheaper price.
Additionally there are a number of outfielders in this year’s market that could conceivably be converted to first base full time. This list includes Mark Canha, Adam Duvall, and Kyle Schwarber, among others.
The trade market introduces another handful of interesting options. Matt Olson may be one of the best players available this winter, as the departure of Athletics manager Bob Melvin to San Diego seems to indicate a rebuild is coming in Oakland. Minnesota’s Miguel Sano, Texas’ Nathaniel Lowe, and Washington’s Josh Bell all have significant upside while currently being stuck playing first base for non-contenders. None of them could be expected to fill Freeman’s shoes, but they are all more affordable, competent options with the potential to be impact hitters.
If Freeman does leave, there are only a handful of other teams that make a lot of sense. The most obvious would be the Giants. With the aforementioned Brandon Belt hitting free agency, the Giants are left with a hole at first. While a reunion with Belt still seems like the most likely and best case scenario for the team, signing Freddie Freeman is much more than just a consolation prize. Following Buster Posey’s retirement, the Giants are left with just two players making more than $6 million in 2022 (Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria), meaning the club more than has the available money to make such a move.
The Yankees are another potential landing spot, contingent on Luke Voit’s health. Brian Cashman demonstrated his and the club’s apprehension regarding Voit’s health by making a deadline deal for Anthony Rizzo in 2021. It’s possible that Voit’s health and his team’s trust in him has rebounded since then. If that is not the case, Freeman to the Bronx makes quite a bit of sense. Freeman’s left handed bat complements both the current roster and stadium of the Yankees. The Yankees are expected to be very involved in this year’s shortstop market, but should they fail to make their big splash there, Freeman is a fantastic backup plan.
There really are not too many other clear fits, as most contenders have a plan at first base already in place. The Royals would be my dark horse “mystery” team. Carlos Santana was below replacement level by fWAR in 136 games at first base (158 total) this season. The Royals were one of the biggest talking points in the first couple weeks of the season. After play on April 26th, Kansas City sat at 14-7, the best record in baseball. However, they quickly faded away and became a nonfactor by the end of May. While it was just a flash in the pan of success, there is still plenty to be excited about in the near future for this squad. The lineup has some bright spots in the forms of Salvador Perez, Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield, and 2021 breakout star shortstop Nicky Lopez. Top prospect Bobby Witt Jr is expected to debut next season. He could immediately become a major force in the middle of that lineup. The pitching staff is perhaps the more exciting side of the team. Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Daniel Lynch make up a trifecta of young arms (all 25 or younger next season) that, while not dominant in 2021, managed to more or less tread water without any real experience to speak of. Like the offense, they will also soon be joined by a top prospect, Left hander Asa Lacy. Once you factor in the relative lack of competition within the division, Freddie Freeman (along with some lucky breaks and positive development) could send Kansas City back to the postseason sooner than most had thought.
In all likelihood, Freddie Freeman will be with Atlanta next season. The familiarity and fit all seemingly make too much sense for it to not happen. But until ink touches paper, speculation will continue to fly as to where the 2020 NL MVP will be playing in 2021.
Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest.