Yesterday was pretty cool! A lockout that didn’t have to last nearly 100 days finally came to an end and we’re about to enter a brave new world of Major League Baseball — at least until the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement talks rolls around in a few years. Now that the anxiety of not knowing if there’s going to be a full season of baseball is behind us, we can move on to the anxiety of still not knowing who in the world is going to play first base for the Atlanta Braves for 2022 and beyond.
Back in early December when there was a dizzying rush of transactions before the lockout began, Freddie Freeman still managed to go into the work stoppage without being officially affiliated with a team. Judging by the fact that there wasn’t a huge deluge of signings to drop at 7:00 p.m. ET last night when the lockout officially ended and free agency began, I’m willing to think that the situation is basically back to square one in that regard. The Braves have always been in the conversation to keep the guy who’s been holding down first base since Chipper Jones was winding his career down, but now they’re going to have some decent competition.
As usual, big spenders like the Yankees and the Dodgers are in the conversation. That’s always going to happen — the Yankees currently have a desire for a first baseman and the Dodgers will make room for him. Then you have the Blue Jays reportedly expressing interest in adding the veteran first baseman and even the Rays are considering making their second contract splash of this offseason. While nothing has happened just yet, it’s clear that Freddie is currently a pretty popular guy on the free agency market.
I’m saying this to say that if Freddie Freeman does indeed decide to take his talents elsewhere, it shouldn’t really be a shock. While it’s understandable for the Braves to be concerned about giving a six-year deal to a first baseman who’s over 30 when all evidence usually indicates that first basemen over 30 are due to have a swift and sudden collapse in offensive production at any given moment, it’s also understandable that a guy who has spent his entire professional career with the same organization and helped to bring a World Series title to that organization would appreciate if that franchise would waste no time making him a one-team man.
By letting it get to this point, the Braves are in a bit of a corner when it comes to their first base situation. Right now, the easiest solution is to pay Freeman what he wants and be done with it. As much as other teams may be courting him, it’s very clear that Freddie Freeman has a genuine love for the Braves as an organization and everybody in that clubhouse would run through a brick wall with and for him. Unfortunately, this is now going to be very expensive for the Braves since it’s dragged out so long. If this turns into a pure bidding war then the Braves may end up losing out. Even if Freddie does give them a bit of a “discount,” it’s going to be a miniscule one since he’s well aware of what other teams are willing to offer him. So if the Braves keep Freddie, it’ll come at a very pretty penny.
The other clear option is a trade for Matt Olson, but that’ll be expensive in terms of prospect cost and likely even player cost as well. Assuming that the Athletics aren’t going into “everything must go” mode, they’re going to want a pretty hefty trade return for Olson. Due to the situation that the Braves are currently in, the A’s are definitely in a position where they can say “Oh, I see you’re in need of a really good first baseman. How much do you really want him?” and they can basically deal from a position of power.
Plus, even if the Braves decide to go ahead with a deal, who’s to say that they won’t drag their feet with re-signing Olson down the road like they did with Freddie? Olson will be eligible for free agency after the 2024 season and he’ll be entering his 30s when that new contract begins. Unless they get a deal done to keep him under team control, then it feels like the precedent will have been set and the Braves would be doing this same song-and-dance in a couple of years. So, if they go with the option of trading Olson then it feels like they’d just be doing the Freddie game all over again, except this time they speedran to the part of game where they got themselves an elite first baseman but have to pony up a bunch of cash to keep him. Either way, if they want an elite option at first base then they’re going to have to pay elite money.
Then we have the free agency market, which is not looking great! Anthony Rizzo is the best first base option out there and he’s definitely entered his period of decline. The Braves could get maybe a year or two of decent production out of Rizzo and even then, it wouldn’t be on the level of what you would get from paying Freddie now or trading for Olson and paying him later. Aside from that, there’s not much else that’s really going to move the needle. Maybe Carlos Santana or Mitch Moreland? Maybe they’ll take a chance on Kyle Schwarber? In that same vein, they could go in a different direction and sign another position player and move Austin Riley to first base? At this point, the Braves would have to get pretty creative to fill the hole that would be left if Freddie were to move on out of town.
So yeah, there are no easy answers at this point when it comes to the Braves and their first base situation. Well, the “easy” decision is just to back up the Brinks truck to Freddie Freeman’s house, but who knows what their relationship is really like behind the scenes at this point? Either way, don’t be shocked if Freddie is going to be in a different uniform once the regular season finally gets underway. If that lame scenario does happen, then hopefully the Braves have a backup plan. This still figures to be a fine baseball team without Freddie Freeman, but if the Braves want to put up another red flag on the light post at Truist Park (and also avoid having a very notable member of the 2021 team missing when they raise the new red flag on April 7) then they’d better figure this situation out.