Atlanta Braves: observations on the Freddie Freeman saga

How badly do the Atlanta Braves really want Freddie Freeman to return? (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
How badly do the Atlanta Braves really want Freddie Freeman to return? (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The high-stakes staring contest continues between the Atlanta Braves, the LA Dodgers, and Freddie Freeman.  Some things are becoming clear, though.

It would be nice for us fans to be a fly on the wall inside the Atlanta Braves front office this week to find out exactly what their thinking is about 5-time All Star and 2020 MVP Freddie Freeman.

There are some things that we can reasonably deduce, however.

First off, Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t wavered from his position… and traditionally he hasn’t with other players, either:  if there is a “must have” player, he has shown the resolve to be aggressive in the marketplace and secure that contract early in the process.

That clearly hasn’t happened here.  Yes, Atlanta is still interested in getting Freeman to return, but at this point it is looking akin to the pursuit (if that’s truly the right word) of third baseman Josh Donaldson.

In that instance, Atlanta had an in-house solution in Austin Riley, though at the time he was still a bit raw and certainly took some additional time to develop into the breakout star we saw in 2021.

Despite that, Anthopoulos refused to get involved in a bidding war with Minnesota for that 3-time All Star and former MVP… despite his desire to stay with the Braves.

Sound familiar?  There’s more.

Atlanta’s Value Play?

Then there’s the gigantic lineup hole that Freeman’s departure would create.  This (obviously) would not be a surprise to anyone, yet the Braves appear to be acting as if they’d be okay with that kind of outcome.

There must be a contingency plan.  Particularly given that the regular season is set to begin in a scant 3-1/2 weeks from now.

As noted by Fred Owens in this week’s podcast, Atlanta not only would need a quality first baseman, they are also completely void of a native left-handed hitter on their roster — save for a couple of switch-hitters.

Could it really be that they are asking Oakland to hang with them before dealing LHH Matt Olson?

From afar, it sounds almost absurd:  the Braves would have to send multiple top prospects to the West coast to pry Olson loose while also having to figure out how to pay him in a couple of years (while 4 years younger than Freeman, he hits free agency after the 2023 season).

But consider this:

  • Oakland, expected to gut its major league roster this off-season, has made precious few moves thus far.
  • While others certainly would be “in” if they intend to deal Olson, perhaps they are waiting around because they prefer what Atlanta is tentatively offering above the options from others (the Yankees in particular).

While it might seem to be a bad idea to spend both prospects and cash to get Olson when Freeman could be had for a bigger offer of cash alone, perhaps the Braves are thinking the equation differently:

  • If there are prospects acceptable in Oakland that Atlanta does not have long-range plans for, then perhaps such a trade makes some sense in the long term.
  • Obviously, this requires Oakland being high on such players, but it wouldn’t be the first time that two organizations viewed prospects differently.
  • The other possible angle is that Anthopoulos himself noted last Summer that there were certain players for which he would be willing to trade virtually any prospect — i.e., no one would be untouchable.  Perhaps Olson falls into that category.

Future Scoping

Then there’s the future money angle.  Let’s bring in players like Riley and Max Fried.  Within the next 2-3 years, the Braves might wish to explore extension deals for both players.  At current pacing, both would be compensated well.

But could the Braves afford both with Freeman on the payroll for the next 5-6 seasons?  That’s a question that might require an answer … today.

In that regard, there are at least two wild card options for first base if the Braves really want to go cheaper:

Rizzo is a free agent.  Hosmer is being “aggressively shopped” by the Padres.  Neither would cost Atlanta much to acquire (guessing perhaps $10 million), but neither would be an offensive weapon like Freeman or Olson… and Hosmer is signed through the 2025 season.

Both would be poor options, but they still have to be on the “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” list.

Scouting the Enemy

The Dodgers have brought Clayton Kershaw back, albeit saving quite a bit over his prior contract.

They are said to be one of the two finalists for the services of masters-level DH Nelson Cruz.

They are still in legal limbo awaiting a decision on the fate of Trevor Bauer.

More to the point, their President of Baseball Operations — Andrew Friedman — has been very reluctant to offer long-term deals to players already in their 30-plus years.

So why isn’t Freeman already signed?  Because like the Braves, LA hasn’t blown him away with their contract offer, either.  Whether that’s about years or dollars (more likely years), the Dodgers haven’t been able to close this deal.

Next. A loss too early. dark

Hence, this saga clearly isn’t over.  First team to blink likely wins.  Take all this as food for thought… but we all have to sit back and see how it plays out, the Atlanta Braves aren’t acting as if the loss of Freeman would cause a lot of tears to be shed.