Freddie Freeman is a free agent. That phrase doesn’t sit right with pretty much any baseball fan. There is no player more suited to the image of a career with one single team than the star first baseman.
The former NL MVP lived through the end of the Braves incredible run of division titles and subsequently playoff appearances and disappointments, through the fullscale rebuild to the rise back to power and contention that culminated in a breakthrough in 2021 with the World Series championship for the Braves - The first major sports title for the city of Atlanta in the 21zt century (not counting MLS).
As the Braves won the World Series over the Houston Astros, the feeling of the end of a chapter wasn’t really there. The Braves have a young nucleus with exciting talent on both sides of the diamond and are expected to contend in the next few years. This team managed to overcome adversity and win it all even without star players, Ronald Acuña and Mike Soroka.
While smart money remains and probably will until the very end on Freeman ultimately resigning with the Braves, realities must be acknowledged. Freddie is a free agent and by all accounts including the fact, he hasn’t signed a contract, with more than ample time to negotiate with Atlanta, indicates that there is a real point of friction there and the two sides are at a standstill.
Freeman seems to be set on that sixth year without taking a hit in AAV and so far, the Braves have refused to go there, otherwise, he wouldn’t still be on the market. Freeman is undoubtedly one of the better first basemen in the game, his acquisition has plenty of merits even if it comes with a concession to all of his demands, however, the decision isn’t the no-brainer most are making it out to be.
Outside of his MVP year in the shortened 2020 season, Freeman has remained steady with a wRC+ of 136, 137, and 135 in each of the past three full seasons, which goes in line with his career mark of 138.
In a vacuum, there are arguments to be made against paying a 32-year-old first baseman $180 million over six seasons, however, despite his extraordinary abilities. Some view Freeman in that upper echelon where peers like Pujols and Cabrera were when they signed those huge contracts when he’s definitely a tier below. Both Pujols and Cabrera consistently put up ridiculous wRC+ marks so much that even after many years of steep decline, Pujols career number is 141.
This is just to state that if I was indeed paying Freeman, I’d look at it as basically paying a slightly better and more consistent version of Max Muncy.
The other aspect that I wanted to touch on and this is probably what has led many to doubt that Freeman is actually leaving Atlanta, is that there isn’t that one ideal fit out there.
Freddie Freeman is a player great enough that you work around your roster to accommodate him, but because you must weigh in the size of the contract, that level of need that would make him a primary target isn’t really there at least on the surface.
Let’s talk about some of the teams he’s been rumored to.
It’s easy to envision a word with Freeman at first, Muncy at 2B, Lux moving around without a guaranteed spot and needing to play his way into the lineup, plus the flexibility of the designated hitter in the NL (probably coming).
At the same time does LA want to invest a significant sum to move Muncy off his best position, switch gears, and shell out that big of a contract for an aging player? It hasn’t been Friedman’s MO.
The Dodgers are a possibility, but you get the feeling they’d make this move opportunistically and not necessarily outbid the field
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not playing third base full-time so you’re likely using him or Freeman at DH. This is mainly about replacing Semien’s bat, but is it a priority for Toronto to get a first baseman? Freeman isn’t a long-term fit, but in a dark timeline where the lockout eats a significant portion of the 2022 season, perhaps Freeman signs a short-term deal.
New York has the weakest first base group out of the bunch, and Freeman could be that big lefty bat the Yankees have been wanting for so long. With a bigger need at shortstop and plenty of options out there, including Matt Olson, will this really be the course for Brian Cashman?
Any of these teams plus a few others could afford and use a player of Freeman’s caliber, but there isn’t that one single marriage of need-opening-priority that indicates right now that one would come in with that sixth year at 30+ AAV and take Freeman away from the Braves.
Ultimately there are enough landing spots that even if he has to settle for five years, Freeman will get a sizable contract. It remains to be seen what happens because it is a sort of glass-half-empty, half-full, scenario. Freeman would upgrade all major league teams and could realistically be a fit, but who’s going to push the envelope.