The former Braves first baseman seems like a genuinely nice guy. I tend to root for players rather than teams, and I was definitely pleased when Freddie Freeman got his World Series ring.
The 6-foot-5 Adonis has accumulated around 43 WAR since his debut as a 20-year-old in 2010. He is a five-time All-Star, double Silver Slugger, and memorably won the NL MVP in the Covid-shortened 2020 season.
He won’t retain his MVP title, but he finished 2021 as the leading run-scorer in the National League with 120, including 31 home runs. His triple slash of .300/.393/.503 was once again elite.
The 32-year-old started this year’s postseason with one hit in 13 plate appearances against the Milwaukee Brewers, and I genuinely heard ESPN’s Buster Olney entertain a question about whether Freeman should bunt as he couldn’t handle playing against the shift.
The rest, as they say, is history. Over the next 13 games, Freeman launched five homers as part of a World Series-clinching 1.129 OPS. The guy is simply brilliant.
Unable to work out an extension with their talismanic first baseman, the Atlanta Braves have let Freeman test free agency. The baseball media is now rife with speculation about where the left-handed slugger will play next season.
The smart money is on a return to Atlanta. Legendary Braves-lifer, Chipper Jones, agrees:
However, the front office is buoyed by their otherworldly dealing at the trade deadline which saw them pick up low-cost difference-makers without having to tie themselves to expensive multi-year deals.
With Acuña Jr. out for the season at the All-Star break, Atlanta brought in four outfielders on expiring contracts: Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Adam Duvall. At times, all four made Acuña Jr.-like contributions, yet none of them cost much to acquire.
With the knowledge that less-costly first base replacements are available, it feels like the Braves are happy to let Freddie sign elsewhere if they can’t get him on the cheap.
Braves’ general manager, Alex Anthopoulos said:
“We love him. He’s great. We want him to stay. He wants to stay. How the process plays out, I can’t get into any specifics other than what I’ve said in the past: Our goal is to sign him and keep him a Brave.”
Yet they allowed him to hit free agency. Hmmm.
I just hope they don’t make a transparent token offer intended to appease the fans, as Houston has done by offering 27-year-old superstar shortstop, Carlos Correa, a five-year deal, when he is worth so much more.
So, for Freeman, if not Atlanta, where?
Jim Bowden of The Athletic, a man not known for his insightful takes, thinks the best fits are the Braves, Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers.
I used to think that Bullseye’s Jim Bowen would make more interesting MLB predictions, but since he passed in 2018, we will have to stick with Bowden’s. And if you think suggesting four teams makes for a pointless contribution, you should see the eight teams that Bowden has offered as potential landing spots for Corey Seager.
The guys over at MLB Trade Rumors (sic) are masters at predicting the free-agent market; they have gone with two votes for the Braves and one for the Red Sox.
Bleacher Report throws the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants into the discussion.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have payroll flexibility – their current 2022 liability is around $100 million lower than the Yankees. Plus, Boston has a gaping hole at first base.
Bobby Dalbec, the Red Sox usual first baseman, was dreadful in the first half of 2021 but transformed into a bonafide stud in August and September with 13 home runs and 1.054 OPS. Smoke and mirrors, or sustainable production? Dalbec, a third baseman in the minors, could float around until the defensively-dithering Devers moves to DH when J.D. Martinez vacates it at the end of 2022.
Boston could make a Freeman deal work, although it would block star prospect, Triston Casas. I’m not convinced the financially-savvy Chaim Bloom will want to tie up Freeman until he is 38 – the prediction sites expect the first baseman to secure a six-year deal averaging $30 million per year.
Of course, if the Red Sox become players in the Freeman sweepstakes, then the Yankees and Dodgers will also throw their hats into the ring. And if we are watching out for the Giants and the Mets, that’s five big franchises that all seem like a step up from Atlanta.
New York Yankees
Luke Voit seems replaceable. Anthony Rizzo looked good in pinstripes in his brief stint last season. Matt Olson could be obtained from the Oakland Athletics. Brandon Belt is a lower-cost option. But Freeman offers MVP-calibre production from the left side. Realistically, the Yankees are not going to improve upon 2021’s division position unless they upgrade, and Freeman is an upgrade. Although it’s difficult to see the club with the highest payroll in MLB coughing up another $30 million per year.
New York Mets
Across the city, money is no object for Steven Cohen’s plaything. He won’t want to be outbid again like he was by the Dodgers last year when he let Trevor Bauer slip from his grasp. Although bullet dodged, and all that.
If Cohen is serious about wanting to create a World Series-winning team in the short term, then Freeman could be the answer. Obviously, with Peter Alonso entrenched at first base, this deal works best if the universal DH is a thing. Also, the Braves would really need to piss off Freeman in negotiations for him to move to a division rival. However, the longer Freeman remains on the market, the greater the Mets chance of capitalising.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite swooping to sign Andrew Heaney, I suspect the Dodgers offseason moves are not yet complete. The prospect of the universal DH gives the best team in baseball plenty of opportunities to maximise their lineup. Age is catching up to Justin Turner, so a few games at DH would probably improve his productivity, and with Max Muncy‘s ability to play second or third (as well as first), Freeman could be yet another MVP to join the roster.
San Francisco Giants
The 107-win Giants out-thought and out-played the seemingly invincible Dodgers to surprisingly clinch the NL West, but just came up short in the playoffs. They have said farewell to two franchise veterans (Buster Posey – retirement. Brandon Belt – free agency), and now phase two of the Farhan Zaidi masterplan starts. He has the roster flexibility and the financial clout to sign anyone he wants. And you have to think that Freeman’s left-handed power would look good launching balls into McCovey Cove.
But what about Freeman? Does he want the security and familiarity of Atlanta, or does he want a shot with a bigger franchise? Sure, Atlanta won the World Series, but they are not the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Mets or Giants. They don’t have the prestige or the fanatical support – yes, I know the Braves have lots of grown adults doing kiddie cowboy and indian war chants – but I’m talking about intense, wide-ranging, globe-spanning support, and the obsessive media coverage that goes with it.
Freeman has won everything, so at 32 years old, he must decide whether he wants to accept greater challenges, or to mangle Alexander Hamilton words, “is he going to throw away his shot?”
Featured image photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images
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While we have you, make sure you check out the latest podcast with Darius, Ben and Russell reviewing the World Series, reflecting on Buster Posey‘s career, and predicting the end-of-season awards. Click on the future Hall-of-Famer to get to the pod.