Opinion: The Braves’ budget isn’t the issue in Freeman negotiations

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The lockout has forced Braves fans to sweat the Freddie Freeman situation much longer than they would like. Most believe this should have been resolved last offseason, which would have meant that Freeman would have never tested the open waters of free agency. Now, who knows when or where he might sign. Freeman returning is no longer a slam dunk like most people believed at the beginning of the offseason, but if he does head elsewhere, it won’t be because of budget constraints put on the Braves by Liberty Media.

Like most Atlanta fans, I’ve been critical of Liberty Media’s ownership. Throughout their tenure as owners, they have been notorious for pinching pennies and handcuffing the general manager. It’s rather evident that their primary objective is to line their own pockets. Winning is a secondary concern, but I’m going to defend them a bit here.

COVID aside, the Braves continue to set a record for payroll with each passing season, and I expect that to continue in 2022. Alex Anthopoulos already stated earlier this offseason that payroll will be significantly higher next season than it was last year.

If that’s the case, the Braves have plenty of money to fit Freeman into their budget. Keep in mind, Freeman was already making close to $23 million last season, so it’s not as if he’s in for a monumental raise. Most reports suggest he will earn around $30 million AAV in his next contract — a more than fair figure, given his consistent production over the years.

Even if Freeman received a $10 million raise for 2022 and beyond, it would still be well within the Braves’ budget. The Braves wouldn’t hand $30 million to Charlie Morton and Travis d’Arnaud if they didn’t have the money to give Freeman the raise he deserves.

So why isn’t Freddie locked into a lifetime contract with the Braves yet? Well, just because you have the money doesn’t mean you overpay for players, even if they are the face of the franchise. Reports have suggested since the beginning of the offseason that the gap in negotiations is because of the length of the deal. The Braves seem firm on their five-year offer, while Freeman wants six-plus.

That might seem petty on the Braves’ end, given everything Freeman has done for the organization. However, when digging a little deeper, it does make quite a bit of sense why the Braves might not want to go past five years.

A five-year contract would lock Freeman in with the Braves through the 2026 season, which is right around the time things begin to get hairy as far as their salary cap table is concerned. Max Fried and Mike Soroka are up for extensions in 2025. Austin Riley could be due for a mega-deal in 2026, and after that, Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña will be looking for substantial pay bumps. It’s unlikely the Braves will be able to keep all of these core pieces, but it will be even more difficult to do with an aging Freeman on the books for $30+ million.

I’m sure this standoff isn’t sitting well with Freeman, and it’s a dangerous game the Braves are playing. However, I can’t blame Anthopoulos for not bidding against himself. Willingly giving into Freeman’s demands for what he’s done in the past is simply bad business. Anthopoulos has proven to be a wizard at the negotiation table; perhaps it backfires this time, but if a deal doesn’t get done, it’s not because of the Braves’ budget.

 

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