As the July 31st trade deadline approaches, most MLB teams are deciding on whether they are buckling in for a bumpy playoff race or looking forward to next year. It can be an emotional time for many players, and the Braves are one of the many teams on the cusp of playoff contention. The Braves are currently 3-3 since the All-Star break, and remain 6 games out of the Wild Card and 7 games out of the division. With 67 games remaining on the schedule, the Braves might just decide to pack it in and start to look forward to next season. But would that be the right decision?
Freddie Freeman suffered a right wrist injury on June 17th against the Boston Red Sox. The Braves initially hesitated to put Freeman on the 15-Day DL, but eventually made the move on June 23rd. The power hitting first baseman has not played since. The injury has sidelined Freeman for longer than expected, but the injury is one that tends to linger, so the Braves are being extremely cautious with their franchise player. It is rumored Freeman will be starting rehab assignments shortly and could be ready to rejoin the Braves before the month of July ends.
The Braves signed the bright young first baseman to an 8-year, $135 million dollar contract extension last February. Freeman is no doubt the franchise 3-hole hitter that every successful organizations needs. He can hit for power, but has such a unique swing that can adjust for contact. With the Braves opting to rebuild this past offseason, the pressure was really on Freeman coming into the season to be an offensive star and keep the team a float. He was solid prior to the injury, hitting .299 with 12 home runs, but he was not elite. However, the Braves have struggled mightily offensively without him and clearly need his bat in the line up to be successful.
The Braves were 31-35 in the 66 games Freeman did play, and are actually 14-15 without him in the lineup. So what is the big deal? The Braves are better without him! Not so fast. Obviously, the Braves are not a better team without Freeman in the lineup. The records clearly do not show the whole story. With Freeman in the lineup, the Braves offense was one of the best in the National League. The contact approach that Kevin Seitzer implemented was working wonders, and Freeman was the man driving them in. Nearly every time the Braves needed Freeman to deliver he did. He is hitting an uncanny .419 with runners in scoring position on the season. At the time, the problem with the Braves was their pitching. The starters were not preforming as well, and the bullpen was absolutely dreadful. Since, the pitching has improved dramatically especially in the bullpen. The problem now: the offense is now missing. Since Freeman’s injury, the Braves have put up more than six runs just once, which is something they did 13 times with Freddie Freeman in the lineup.The Braves are averaging less than 2.8 run per game without Freeman in the lineup! Even with Freeman injured for nearly a third of the season, he still leads the team by 3 in home runs! The offense can still get some hits, but are clearly missing the big bat to drive them in.
Offense is not the only reason the Braves are missing Freeman. The Braves have also been riddled with untimely errors and mistakes in the field since the injury. Freddie only had 4 errors in the 65 games he played in. The Braves already have 3 at first base in just 29 games. Those numbers are not terrible, but Freeman is one of the best with his glove at first base. He is constantly stretching to get guys out and bailing out poor throws with his glove. Other Braves players might not admit it, but they miss the presence of Freeman in the field. The little things play a big role in the game of baseball, and the Braves defense at first base without Freeman is costing them runs and wins.
The Braves are clearly focused on the future of the franchise. They are not going to give up their newly acquired pitching products for an immediate fix now, but they might not need to. The Braves will be getting a huge boost at the trade deadline in Freddie Freeman. He will be healthy and ready to compete. The Braves could opt to blow the whole thing up now for a few mid-level prospects, but is it really worth it? Most likely anybody the Braves receive from trading the likes of a Juan Uribe or Jim Johnson would have very little impact on the future of the organization. They probably will not ever even make a major league impact. Six or seven games is far from impossible to come back from with so many games left, and the Braves might just be getting the best player at the trade deadline. If the Braves opt to stand pat at the deadline, Freeman might provide the boost they need to make a run at the playoffs this season.