It’s February 8th, 2022, and Freddie Freeman has yet to sign a contract extension. Suppose you had told me that a year ago, I might have pulled my hair out in anguish. But given the fact that we are currently in a lockout and the Braves finally got over the hump last October, I’m able to remain optimistic. Like most people in the industry, I’m confident Alex Anthopoulos will eventually work things out with Freeman and his representatives, essentially making him a Brave for life. However, I would be lying if I said it was a foregone conclusion.
There’s a real chance Freeman is playing elsewhere next season and beyond. The Yankees are reportedly set to make a strong push for his services once the lockout ends, and they aren’t the only ones with deep pockets that might be pursuing him. The Dodgers, Red Sox, and several other organizations could use a first baseman of Freeman’s caliber, and they have the money to make it a reality.
From reports that surfaced before the lockout began, the issue between Freeman and the Braves is the length of the deal. The Braves don’t want to offer him a contract for more than five years, while Freeman is looking for at least six years, if not even longer.
If the gap is really just one year, I find it difficult to believe the Braves and Freeman don’t get a deal done relatively quickly once the lockout ends. However, things might get complicated if a team ups the ante a bit. Most organizations will be hungry to spend following a lengthy lockout, so it’s not unfathomable that a team will swoop in and offer a lucrative seventh year. That might be an offer too good for Freeman to pass up, and I wouldn’t expect the Braves to match.
In that case, Anthopoulos would have to quickly pivot and replace Freeman’s on-field production. There’s no perfect solution, but the Braves have already kicked the tires on Anthony Rizzo, who is a free agent, and Matt Olson, who appears to be available for trade. Atlanta has also reportedly inquired about Carlos Correa. That would require a shuffling of their infield, likely moving Dansby Swanson to third and Austin Riley to first, but it could be worth it for an All-Star shortstop in the middle of his prime.
If Freeman does sign elsewhere, replacing his on-field production is the least of my worries. The Braves would likely sign Rizzo or trade for Olson and spend the rest of their funds upgrading the roster elsewhere. Talent-wise, I don’t think the roster would take much of a hit, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a lasting effect on the team.
Losing Freeman would be a gut punch to the entire organization. He is Braves baseball — an ironman that holds the whole team accountable. The nearly 5-WAR he consistently puts up each season is one thing to replace, but I’m not sure it would be possible for Anthopoulos to replicate what he brings to the clubhouse.
I say it multiple times every season with this group; the Braves have exceeded preseason expectations nearly every season because analytics don’t tell the whole story, even in baseball. You can’t put a number on the chemistry in the clubhouse, which plays a huge factor over a 162-game season.
The Braves know this, and they’ve excelled at putting together a team with high character. Nobody exemplifies that more than Freeman, who is the lead dog in the clubhouse. I do think it’s possible that things could change significantly if the Braves were not to re-sign him.
Talent-wise, they should have no problem competing for the 2022 World Series with or without Freeman. They just won one without arguably the best player on the planet in Ronald Acuna, but there is more to baseball than WAR. Freeman’s a pro’s pro, the guy most of these young players have looked up to since they reached the majors. Losing him could have a lasting impact on the clubhouse, which is why I don’t believe this to be an overreaction.
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