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Braves Mailbag: Freddie Freeman, backup plans, rotation and more

Is the Freddie Freeman situation a lost cause?

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions for this week’s mailbag! We will do it again soon. Let’s get to it!

At this point, isn’t the Freddie Freeman standoff a game of chicken where the Braves are likely to lose?

I don’t think so, at least not yet. The only thing that has really changed is that he is now a free agent and is free to sign anywhere. Freeman wasn’t mentioned a lot during the signing frenzy prior to the lockout. Reports were that most teams think that he will ultimately end up returning to Atlanta. The Yankees were mentioned to as having checked in on Freeman but there weren’t any reports of an offer being issued. After losing Corey Seager to the Rangers, the Dodgers also look like a team that could be interested but there wasn’t much more beyond that.

We may not ever know why this situation has played out as it has. Is it largely a result of the pandemic, the shortened season, its effect on team finances, or something else? It is disappointing that situation is still unresolved but I still believe the two sides will find a common ground and get a deal done.

Also, the Braves won some of these chicken games when they’ve played, scooping up guys for discounts as the list of suitors dwindled. If it is a game of chicken, it’s a dangerous one, but the Braves haven’t actually lost these types of games in recent history.

With no word at all on where Freddie Freeman is, do you think it’s likely that negotiations are still going on, or is it become bleaker by the day?

With the lockout now in place, teams aren’t allowed to negotiate with agents or players. So everything remains in a holding pattern for now. There is a chance that some teams or agents choose to circumvent this rule, but I don’t think it will happen until it appears that a deal on a new CBA is near.

The Braves reportedly checked in on Anthony Rizzo in Nov. Is he still under consideration as a cheaper, shorter alternative?

I don’t know why he wouldn’t be. In fact, I will be surprised if Rizzo signs before Freeman because any team, such as the Braves, that misses out on Freeman would have interest. Rizzo will be entering his age-32 season and is coming off of a couple of down seasons but he could fit the bill as a short-term replacement, though the Braves would need to not overpay for a guy whose upside may be limited, and would need to find Freeman’s departing wins elsewhere.

How is trading for Matt Olson a good option if it costs the Braves multiple good prospects and only gets him for 2 years with no good 1B prospect in the system?

If Freeman moves on, then trading for Matt Olson would likely be the best scenario for the Braves. Olson just put up a five-win season for Oakland in 2021. He will be entering his age-28 season and is under club control through 2023. Yes, such a move would result in a high cost of prospect capital, but this is exactly the type of move you have to make if you are Atlanta, because near-term wins matter for the club. The Braves’ window is open now and the drop-off from Freeman to Olson is projected to be minimal or nonexistent. At the end of the 2023 season, Atlanta would again find itself in a similar situation from a contract standpoint, but with a younger player.

My preference is still to sign Freeman and lock him up for the remainder of his career, but the price has to make sense. Trading for Olson, though, is a solid Plan B even with the high price. The key is just not overpaying in any scenario.

Do you think Liberty Media would ever pay Ozuna about $65 million for nothing by just releasing him?

My thinking is that if the Braves were going to release Ozuna, then it would have happened the day his retroactive suspension was announced. There is a chance that they shop him around in trade, but I’m preparing myself for him to be in the lineup on Opening Day, which was not something I’m particularly looking forward to. Also a generic note about how it’s the Braves that are paying him and making these decisions, not Liberty Media.

Is it time to lock-up Ian Anderson to a long-term contract or should we give it another year?

I think it is a little early. Under the recently expired CBA, Anderson wouldn’t be arbitration-eligible until 2024. The Braves would probably like to see him get through a full 162-game season and show that the shoulder issues that he dealt with in 2021 are behind him. Anderson has an unusual profile for a young pitcher, and it’s worth gathering more data about how exactly that profile will evolve (or not) over time before committing, unless there’s a gigantic discount involved that makes it a no-brainer. I think the better candidate for an extension on the pitching side right now is Max Fried, who is currently in his second year of arbitration, and might yield some real cost savings with an extension... though there’s also a ton of risk given his injury history.

What’s the likeliest scenario for the backend of the rotation? Some combination of Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Wright, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller and Touki Toussaint or will they bring in someone from outside the organization.

When the offseason began I thought that the Braves would definitely be in the market to add another starter. It is unclear if the early run of signings, particularly for starters, alters that thinking. Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson are penciled in at the top, provided that Morton is recovered from the fractured fibula he suffered in Game 1 of the World Series. Judging the uncertainty beyond those three, I still think it would benefit Atlanta to bring in another backend starter this offseason. There are currently four starters projected for around 2 WAR that are still unsigned, and another 20 or so that are somewhere in the 1 WAR projection range, so there are plenty of options.

Bringing in some arms from outside the organization would set up a big-time competition during Spring Training among the internal options for the final spot. As we have seen in the past, a team never seems to have enough rotation depth.

What has been your favorite transaction in the last calendar year? Least favorite?

Great question. I could easily go with Charlie Morton here, but I am going to go with the acquisition of Joc Pederson. When the Braves picked up Pederson from the Cubs, they appeared to be dead in the water and many were expecting them to become sellers at the Trade Deadline. We were having similar internal debates as to what direction they should go in, with mostly everyone coming down on some variant of “sell.” If they were in any other division, then they may have been sellers but the NL East was still winnable and acquiring Pederson sent that message to the clubhouse.

My least favorite was re-signing Marcell Ozuna to a four-year deal. I am not just saying this because of what happened last season, but I was hoping that they would retool and go in a different direction due to his defensive limitations. They didn’t and that deal is going to haunt them for the foreseeable future, though for a different reason.

I was wondering where all the prospects are at now and did we really lose anything with the international signing of players scandal? Have any of them made it to the majors, helped other clubs as trade bait, or actually living up to their potential as they are moving up in the minors? Also, where and what’s going on with all the office people involved in this scandal?

We actually wrote about this back in January but it is worth revisiting. It is safe to say that none of the players that the Braves lost have gone on to stardom. The limitations on future signings were much more damaging and have played a part in the lack of depth that the system has at the lower levels. Gordon Blakeley was given a one-year suspension in the scandal. John Coppolella remains on the permanently ineligible list.

Do you expect spring training games to be lost/spring training to be delayed due to the lockout, if not perhaps pushing the start of a season back or worse?

I’m still mildly optimistic that a deal will be finished in time so that Spring Training and the regular season won’t be affected. However, I don’t expect negotiations to ramp back up in any significant manner until mid-January. That timing, unfortunately, would put things in position where if progress isn’t made, then the start of the season could be hanging in the balance.

What are the plans for a newsless winter? What kind of content can we expect to see if we can presume that the next 2-3 months will be a bunch of nothing as both Manfred and Clark posture and preen with the media before spring training gets close and they start feeling pressure to make a deal.

Another good question. We will be wrapping up our 2021 season in review series over the next week or so. We are planning a series to spotlight some potential free agent targets that will be available when the offseason resumes. We have some other historical ideas that we may delve into just depending on how the CBA negotiations progress. Rest assured that we will be working hard to bring everyone some good content.

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