Ronald Acuna Jr.’s season-ending ACL tear has cast a shadow over what was already a difficult season for the Braves. Though Atlanta is still only four games behind the Mets for first place in the NL East and seven games out of an NL wild card slot, the Braves have only a 44-45 record. Getting on track before the trade deadline won’t be easy, as the Braves have 16 games (against the Rays, Padres, Phillies, and Mets) in the 15 days between now and July 30.
A couple of tough weeks could ultimately make Atlanta more inclined to sell rather than buy at the trade deadline. Even if the team does decide to sell, however, “Freddie Freeman isn’t going anywhere,” MLB Network’s Jon Heyman writes. On paper, Freeman is a potentially tantalizing trade chip considering both his ability and the fact that 2021 is the last year of his contract, but Heyman reports that both sides want to keep their relationship going without any interruption.
Freeman, of course, has control over his future in the form of 10-and-5 rights — the full no-trade protection granted to players who have 10 years of MLB service time and at least five years with one team. If Freeman isn’t open to a trade, there isn’t anything the Braves can do, though it doesn’t appear as though the club has any interest in moving him anyway.
It had long been assumed that the two parties would work out a contract extension to keep Freeman in Atlanta well beyond the 2021 season, though whatever extension talks took place prior to Opening Day didn’t seem to result in much progress. That created some speculation about whether or not Freeman would remain with the Braves, or if the team had concerns about committing a hefty long-term salary to a first base-only player who turns 32 in September.
Just a season removed from NL MVP honors, it certainly doesn’t appear as if Freeman is slowing down. After a bit of an average start (by his standards) to the 2021 campaign, Freeman is now hitting .274/.381/.489 with 19 homers over a league-best 388 plate appearances. Freeman’s .410 xwOBA is well above his actual .371 wOBA, so if anything, he projects to deliver even more offensive production in the second half.
A scenario exists where the Braves could trade Freeman to a contender at the deadline, with a quiet handshake agreement in place for Freeman to re-sign with Atlanta as a free agent this winter. Those types of situations are pretty rare, however, and it would be a risk for the Braves on a couple of levels. For one, Freeman has never played anywhere outside of the Braves organization, and experiencing what another team has to offer could make him more open to signing elsewhere. Secondly, keeping Freeman would allow the Braves to issue him a qualifying offer after the season, so Atlanta could recoup a compensatory draft pick if he did sign with another team.