Atlanta Braves: Plan B If No Freddie Freeman

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) celebrates after hitting a two run home run. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) celebrates after hitting a two run home run. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Braves have won the World Series and look to become just the 4th team to win multiple titles in the past 21 years

To do this, they will have some serious decisions to make. Of course, the main question on most people’s minds is if the Atlanta Braves are going to re-sign Freddie Freeman.

Odds heavily favor Freddie Freeman coming back to the only organization he has ever known, especially with the extra revenue gained from the World Series, as well as multiple teammates calling for the team to re-sign him in the parade.

However, it is not an absolute guarantee that it will happen. It can be counted on one hand the number of players in the modern-day game that have stuck with the same team for their entire career. Also, there is not much to read into this, but the Atlanta front office did extend a qualifying offer (as they should have) to Freddie Freeman.

Now, a qualifying offer will almost always be given to a player of Freddie Freeman’s caliber in this situation (when eligible) because the Atlanta Braves will gain a draft pick if he signs somewhere else, proving that nothing is guaranteed.

With this in mind, and with the small chance that the Atlanta Braves have to role with a different 1st baseman in their title defense in 2022, it would behoove of them to have a plan B.

What are some options for the Atlanta Braves at 1st if Freddie leaves?

Before last season, one option would be to move Austin Riley to 1st base and bring in a 3rd baseman from outside the organization. That possibility exists but has dwindled in large part to Riley’s massive defensive resurgence (4th best 3rd baseman in the NL according to SABR’s Defensive Index).

For what it is worth, Riley was dead least in SDI in 2020. The theory is that the Atlanta Braves switching to using the shift far more often has aided him, but that is a different story for a different day.

Needless to say, bringing a 1st baseman and leaving Riley at 3rd base is the most likely scenario

There are a few solid 1st base options in the free agent market, but not many. The one area that Alex Anthopoulos needs to be leery of is that other teams are not going to wait on if the Atlanta Braves sign Freddie Freeman or not before they make acquisitions.

Here are the most likely replacements should Freddie sign elsewhere:

Sign Anthony Rizzo

As far as free agents go, Freeman is far and away the best option at 1st base. In 2nd place, it is pretty clear that Anthony Rizzo takes that spot.

In 11 years (9.168 years of service time), Rizzo has amassed 36.9 Wins Above Replacement with a very good slash line of .268/.369/.481 with a 127 OPS+, 251 home runs.

Rizzo has been one of the best defensive 1st baseman in the league almost every year being top 5 in SDI every year since 2018.

Rizzo will demand a decent pay day in free agency, so that is something to consider. Rizzo will likely seek somewhere around a 4 year 60 million dollar contract.

Trade for Matt Olson

The Athletics look to be set to trim some payroll this off-season, and an easy way to do that is to shed the salary of one of their top players.

Olson has largely been overlooked due to him being on a small market team. However, he has been excellent. In fact, he had more Wins Above Replacement than Freddie Freeman did in 2021 (5.8 to 4.7).

Olson averages 5.1 WAR per 162 games played. His excellent slash line of .252/.371/.540 and 134 OPS+ is 4% lower than Freddie’s from an adjusted OPS standpoint for their careers.

Defensively, Olson is one of the few 1st baseman in the league that holds a positive defensive WAR with a .33 dWAR per 162 games played. For reference, Freddie holds a -0.82 dWAR per 162 games.

Olson will not be a free agent until 2024, so the Atlanta Braves would have control of his contract for 2 full seasons. This could cost some decent prospect capitol, but recent history says 1st baseman do not require farm system gutting talent to acquire.

Sign Brandon Belt

The Giants extended a qualifying offer to Belt, and based on his market, there is a good chance he will accept it. However, if he does not, his value will drop significantly due to teams having to give up their second highest draft pick to sign him (with a few exceptions).

If this does happen, there could possibly be a scenario where the Atlanta Braves could swoop in and get him for less than the average annual value of the qualifying offer (18.4 million dollars).

Belt is not on the same level as Rizzo, Chapman, or Freeman, but he has been a solid major leaguer for 11 seasons averaging 3.56 WAR per 162 games, which is well above average for a 1st baseman.

As far as offense goes, his past 2 years have been his best. In 51 games in the shortened COVID season, he had an excellent 177 OPS+ (77% above average), and in 2021 he had a 160 OPS+ in 91 games.

As far as WAR goes, he averaged 5.1 WAR per 162 games played, which is right on par with Matt Olson.

“Out of left field” option

Alex Anthopoulos has made a name for himself for making out of the box moves (the Soler trade, for example), so if he fails to sign Freddie Freeman, it will not come at a surprise if he made something no one saw coming happen.

It was mentioned earlier that the Athletics are planning on shedding payroll. It was also mentioned that Riley will most likely stay at 3rd with his massive improvement. However, there is a scenario that could change that.

Matt Chapman has been one of the most underrated players in the league. In fact, he garnered MVP votes in 2 of the last 5 seasons. In 2018-2019 he accumulated 15.3 WAR.  Even in an offensive down year in 2021 for his standards (100 OPS+), he still accumulated 3.5 WAR.

Chapman is to the AL what Nolan Arenado has been to the NL defensively. Even though Gold Glove awards are by far not perfect, they are getting drastically better since 2013 and getting SABR involved. Chapman already has 2 platinum gloves.

In this crazy scenario, the Atlanta Braves could trade for Matt Chapman, and move Austin Riley to 1st base, and have one of the best defensive infields through 2024, with a very high offensive upside too.

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We all hope Freddie comes back, but in the small chance he does not, there should always be a plan B.