If you look up “franchise player” in the dictionary, it’s just a picture of Freddie Freeman and his amazingly perfect teeth smiling back at you.
For basically the last decade, with Chipper Jones’ career winding down and Ronald Acuña Jr’s career just getting going, Freeman has been the best player on the team. He’s the common thread that’s connected a playoff run, and then a painful rebuild, followed by another playoff run, and now finally, a World Series Championship. Freddie has been the constant. The superstar. By every measure he’s been a franchise player.
Now, he’s a free agent.
As hard as it is to believe, with the conclusion of the World Series, Freeman’s contract with the Atlanta Braves has expired. He’s a free agent. Free to sign with any team. The last two years, thousands of words have been typed predicting and projecting what a contract extension would look like, with the idea that the Braves would never let their franchise player reach free agency. We all thought an extension would be done by February. And then we thought it would be done before the season started. And then by the All-Star break. And then, slowly, we all started to realize it just wasn’t going to get done. A magical postseason run, culminating in a World Series title certainly lessened the anxiousness around Freeman’s contract status, or at the very least, postponed it. But here we are. The off-season is officially here and Freddie Freeman is free agent.
One of the first things that happens every off-season is different sites release their free agent rankings, and some will even include projections as to what those player will sign for. This morning Keith Law of The Athletic released his annual Top 50 Free Agent list. In it he ranked Freeman as the fourth best free agent on the market and included this blurb:
“…but his incredible consistency and lack of any sign of decline would make me comfortable giving him six years and $25 million or more a year.”
If you weren’t already aware, Freeman is going to get PAID. And deservedly so. With an MVP award, a World Series Championship, and one of the most consistent offensive profiles in the sport, he will have earned every dollar he gets. As Keith predicts, and I imagine FanGraphs and MLBTradeRumors will concur when they release their list, the starting point for Freeman’s free agency is going to be something around 6 years/$150M.
It’s long been thought that a decent comp for a Freeman extension would look something like the 5-year/$130M extension Paul Goldschmidt signed with the Cardinals a couple of years ago. And while that does make some sense, the truth is, Freeman is a much more accomplished player and Goldschmidt never reached free agency. A year ago, when he’s not on the open market, yeah, maybe 5/$130M gets it done. But now, no chance. Unless Freeman takes the hometown discount of a lifetime, the Goldschmidt deal is no longer an adequate comp.
And really, even Law’s idea of 6-years/$150M is probably just the starting point. Assuming Freeman is going after top dollar, which should always be the assumption, it’s not crazy that he could get a deal in the $200M range. Not just because of the kind of player he is, but because some of the teams looking for upgrades and the relative size of their payrolls. The Dodgers don’t have a set 1B and are always a threat. The Angels have a 1B vacancy and have money to spend. The Yankees ran into serious offensive problems this year and may look for more consistent options. There are some large market teams with payrolls that dwarf Atlanta’s that could easily jump into the Freeman sweepstakes and make life tougher on the hometown team.
The good news for Atlanta is, by every indication, Freeman wants to come back. Probably even more so now that he gets to defend a World Series title. It’s possible the Braves wouldn’t necessarily have get to the very top dollar to get a deal done. As long as the they were in the ballpark of the other top offers, inertia might win the day.
Another factor which could help Atlanta is this free agent market is deep. Crazy deep. Large payroll teams might have their eyes set on names like Carlos Correa or Corey Seager, or Kris Bryant, or Javy Baez or Marcus Semien. With so many different places to go for offensive upgrades, the Braves could benefit from other teams simply having an abundance of choices. Also, teams don’t typically value 1B the way they do SS or 3B or the outfield, just because of how much defense is valued in the modern game. Other teams might choose to spend their money on more versatile positions.
Money is another area where the Braves might have more of an advantage this year than in years past. The World Series run they just made means a substantial amount of extra revenue for the club they weren’t necessarily expecting back in June. Just one or two home playoff games can be a massive boon for a team’s financials. The Braves just played eight home playoff games. And as someone who attended one of them, Game 3 of the World Series, I can tell you it was the most expensive sporting event I have, and most certainly will, ever attend. It was absolutely worth it of course, as a potential once-in-a-lifetime event, but the Braves made a ridiculous amount of money this October. They were also second in all of baseball in attendance in 2021, in large part because they were the second team to open back up to 100% capacity after the Covid-19 pandemic. Revenue was flowing in 2021. So when it comes time to offer Freeman the largest contract in the history of the franchise, the money should be there.
And regardless what the money is, the Braves should pay it. Freeman should’ve never reached free agency, and paying more money than you’re comfortable paying is the penalty for letting that happen. He’s the superstar. The franchise player. The World Series Champion. And he should end his career in Atlanta. Time to pay him.