The Braves’ number one priority right now is to bring back Josh Donaldson, and complete their lineup for the 2020 season. They must find protection for Freddie Freeman in the lineup. After doing so last season for the first time in seemingly ever, Freeman posted one of his best career years. He had a career-best 38 home runs and 121 RBI, his first time going over the 100 mark since 2013. Did juiced baseballs play a part in this? Perhaps, but there is no doubt that when pitchers are forced to give Freddie something to hit, he is as dangerous as they come.
But once they do address the Donaldson situation, whether it be signing him or making a deal, it is about time for the Braves to shift their focus to locking up Freddie. As things stand, he has two years left on his deal, making a reasonable $22 million annually. Freddie is this generation’s Chipper Jones, a great all-around hitter with the potential to play for one single franchise. The good news is that Freddie has made it abundantly clear he hopes that is the case:
This is not about being worried about the Braves not retaining Freeman. Sure, payroll is higher than it has ever been, but so is revenue, and Freddie is the heart and soul of this team. With a great young core locked up at such a reasonable cost, bringing in a contract such as Donaldson’s and extending Freddie is more than reasonable. Considering the Braves have not brought in a big-time first base prospect in ages, I do not think they are expecting to be without him anytime soon, barring injury,
The Braves have options. They have a ton of money coming off the books next year, such as the contracts of Mark Melancon and Cole Hamels. The smart move would be to not let him hit free agency, but perhaps give him a bit more money in 2020 or 2021 and try to lock him up for an extra few seasons, allowing him to hit the free agency market around his age 34 season. Since they are already paying him a nice penny, we are talking about a rather slight uptick in payroll for the next couple of years instead of adding $30 million to this year’s payroll for example.
A great model for a potential Freddie extension could be the contract Paul Goldschmidt received. He got a five year, $130 million deal, and the Braves could easily top that number. If they gave Freddie five years, $140 million, we are talking about locking him up for only about $6 million more a year, which should be a no brainer.
The reason it is better to do this earlier rather than later is to lock up your core, keep Freddie off the free agency market, and reduce the risk of giving big contract dollars past his age 35 season, allowing the Braves to touch base at that point in time. Perhaps Freddie will want a super long deal, but this would not be the first time he and the Braves would have gone down this road. Freddie deserves every penny, but it is in the team’s best interest to address this sooner rather than later. Hopefully, Freddie can be a lifelong Brave, and leave a legacy similar to Chipper, with some more hardware in this trophy case.