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Braves Free Agent Target: Freddie Freeman

I still can’t believe that this situation has gone on this long.

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

Earlier this week, we took a closer look at some first base options for the Atlanta Braves if Freddie Freeman were to choose to play somewhere else next season. Demetrius took a closer look at Anthony Rizzo, who is arguably the best free agent first base option behind Freeman. Scott explored a potential trade for Oakland first baseman Matt Olson, who is probably the best replacement option overall, but would come at a very high cost.

Today, I get to state the obvious. The easiest thing the Braves can do is simply re-sign Freddie Freeman as soon as the lockout is over, and then move forward to address the rest of the roster. Another added dimension to this situation is that while I am sure that the Front Office has explored a number of scenarios for the roster, everything likely revolves around what happens with Freeman and first base.

Before we dive in, let’s get one more area out of the way. I wrote in this space last year that I expected an extension with Freeman to get announced during the spring. That came and went and then the thought was that they would get it done during the regular season. Then came the All-Star Break, the end of the regular season and then the five-day “quiet period” after the World Series. You get the point. We have been waiting for over a year for this to happen and I don’t think anyone outside the organization or Freeman’s camp really understands why this isn’t resolved.

We have written quite a bit about Freeman this offseason so there really isn’t much more to add. Stephen put together a wonderful article about Freeman’s free agency back in early November just as he was becoming a free agent. The thinking at that time was that it would take a deal of five to six years worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $150-200 million. Since then, reports have surfaced that a sixth year might have been the sticking point between Freeman and the Braves during early negotiations and that Freeman was looking for something in the $180-200 million range, though the sourcing of those reports was weak and problematic. Atlanta likely cost themselves some money in the long run the day they allowed Freeman to become a free agent, as they could have benefitted from signing him earlier, without competition. Now that other teams are involved, the price is probably going to go up unless something bizarre happens.

Which teams are interested remains to be seen. The consensus around the industry has been that Freeman will ultimately return to the Braves. It will be interesting to see if his representation has worked behind the scenes during the lockout to change that perception. The Dodgers, who lost Corey Seager to the Rangers, had the most buzz before the lockout, but really, you can expect a lot of other teams to get involved should they believe that Freeman is really entertaining the idea of leaving Atlanta.

Freeman will be entering his age-32 season in 2022. You don’t have to look far into history to find that handing out large free agent contracts to players in their early thirties, particularly first basemen, hasn’t always worked out. Still, when you look at Freeman’s career, he has been the model of consistency. He shows up and plays every day and at a high level. We aren’t talking about a 10-year deal here, either. While a sixth year probably makes Atlanta hesitant, that is the price they are probably going to have to pay for not getting this deal done 11 months ago.

In closing, Freeman is worth more to the Braves than he is to any other franchise. He has deep roots with the organization and with manager Brian Snitker. Yes, it is a business, but at the end of the day we are talking about a franchise player that has spent his entire career in Atlanta and has stated his desire to finish his career here. That’s perhaps an extra-appealing trait to have in this day and age of constant player movement, but keeping Freeman a Brave for life or almost-life will come at a cost.

In closing, let’s try to put this in perspective. I think signing Freeman is the logical move. I don’t believe that the Braves’ window is suddenly closed if he exits. The team’s ultimate future success will depend on how they pivot, and Alex Anthopoulos’ track record suggests that he is capable of pivoting quite effectively. To me, Matt Olson would be the most logical replacement. He is younger and has produced at a similar rate, though he will come at a high cost the Braves haven’t paid in trade during Anthopoulos’ tenure. The roster the Braves have put together goes beyond one player and you need look no further than the 2021 season as a reminder.