32-year-old first baseman Freddie Freeman, once of baseball’s best hitters, entered the lockout without a home. After 12 years with the Braves and coming off a championship, the assumption is that Atlanta remains the favorite.
The last information we have on Freeman’s negotiations with the Braves dates back to mid-November. On November 12th, Bob Nightengale of USA Today put it this way, reporting from the GM Meetings in Carlsbad:
“Free agent Freddie Freeman was on the mind of every team seeking a first baseman, with Freeman rejecting Atlanta’s five-year, $135 million offer, and seeking closer to a six-year, $200 million deal. Yet, you couldn’t find a soul who believes Freeman won’t be returning to Atlanta.”
Jon Heyman of MLB Network generally concurred in a report four days later, writing, “Last heard 6th year was still at issue in Freeman/Braves talks but situation is fluid and they’ve still got to be considered the favorite.” A few weeks after that, Heyman suggested the Dodgers, Yankees, and Blue Jays are “trying to pry” Freeman away from the Braves, even though those clubs find it unlikely.
Will the Braves or Freeman crack on the sixth year issue once the lockout ends? Would Freeman take a lower AAV than the expected $30MM+ to convince the Braves to commit to a sixth year, perhaps at something like six years and $160MM? Whatever needs to happen to get it done, the impending lockout did not create enough pressure to result in an agreement. You’d have to think Freeman’s chances of leaving the Braves are around their highest point, whatever those chances are. The Braves have let it get to a point where Freeman has no team, and other teams likely made offers.
Let’s assume something like MLBTR’s six-year, $180MM projection would be needed to lure Freeman away from the Braves. Signing Freeman would also likely require draft pick forfeiture. If not the Braves, which teams could reasonably do that contract? Let’s start by assessing Heyman’s trio.
- Dodgers: The Dodgers doing a six-year contract for another team’s 32-year-old free agent? Andrew Friedman has been in charge for seven years now, and he’s given out four-plus years to another team’s free agent two times: four years to Brandon McCarthy in 2014, and four years to AJ Pollock in 2019. Under Friedman, the club did go to four years to retain Justin Turner and Chris Taylor and five to keep Kenley Jansen in free agency. They also notably did a 12-year extension with Mookie Betts before he played a regular season game with the team. But six years to Freeman along with the forfeiture of the Dodgers’ second and fifth round draft picks? I just don’t see it. Signing Freeman would also require Max Muncy to spend more time at second or third base, but the addition of an NL DH could alleviate a potential logjam.
- Yankees: The Yankees basically did nothing to improve the team prior to the lockout, so there’s the idea they could add Freeman’s sweet-swinging lefty bat in lieu of their more pressing need at shortstop. Even if Freeman costs $180MM, that’s still likely over $100MM less than Carlos Correa. The team could and would likely have to exceed a new 2022 competitive balance tax threshold to sign Freeman, but they may be willing to do so after staying below the line in 2021. Adding Freeman would do nothing to solve the shortstop issue, and it would also crowd out Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres to a degree. One of them could be traded to accommodate Freeman. Still, Freeman is an imperfect fit for a team that is also in need of rotation help.
- Blue Jays: Speaking of imperfect Freeman fits, the Blue Jays currently have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. entrenched at first base. Assuming Freeman doesn’t intend to mostly shelve his first baseman’s glove, Vlad Jr. would have to spend most of his time at designated hitter – fresh off a second-place MVP finish and Silver Slugger award. A shift back to third base for Guerrero would seem even more risky. It’s also worth noting that signing Freeman would permanently plug up Toronto’s DH spot, where George Springer spent nearly half his games in 2021. I think the Blue Jays could swing the financial commitment to Freeman, and I get the idea of replacing Marcus Semien’s bat, but this is not a great roster fit.
So we’ve looked at the three teams Heyman linked to Freeman, and none seem like a perfect fit. Let’s look at all the other even slightly plausible options.
- White Sox: They’ve got Jose Abreu at first base, but only through 2022. They’ve also got flexibility in the DH spot, so the roster fit could work. Financially, though, I’d be quite surprised to see the White Sox make this level of commitment given their current payroll situation.
- Tigers: There’s a sense that the Tigers have finished their major spending after the Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez signings. But man, would Freeman be a game-changer in Detroit. They’ve got Jonathan Schoop at first base and Miguel Cabrera at DH, neither of whom should block a player like Freeman. Freeman could get in the way of top prospect Spencer Torkelson, who played more first base than third this year in the minors. Plus, the club has Jeimer Candelario at third base. I don’t think the Tigers will pursue Freeman, but if they had the desire to spend the money I think the roster could be figured out.
- Red Sox: The Red Sox have Bobby Dalbec at first base, who came on very strong in the season’s final two months. They’ve got J.D. Martinez at DH, but only for one more year. They also have first base prospect Triston Casas. Roster-wise, the Red Sox have good options at first for the long-term, though no established Major Leaguers. They also have a GM who’s yet to give a free agent more than $14MM. As with Andrew Friedman, this just doesn’t seem like Chaim Bloom’s way of doing things.
- Astros: The Astros have Yuli Gurriel at first base, but only for one more year. They’ve got Yordan Alvarez as the regular DH. Signing Freeman would probably necessitate a Gurriel trade. The Astros do have the payroll flexibility to accommodate Freeman, but they seem like yet another big market club that would shy away from signing a corner infielder through age 37 – especially since they don’t seem to want to pay Carlos Correa past age 31.
- Angels: The Angels are committed to Shohei Ohtani as DH for two more years, and they’d surely like to lock up the AL MVP beyond that. And Jared Walsh took over first base quite capably for the Halos this year. Like the Yankees, shortstop and the rotation are more pressing needs. It’s difficult to see Freeman landing here.
- Mariners: The Mariners have Ty France at first base, plus Evan White under contract through 2025. They don’t have a set DH, but Kyle Lewis and Luis Torrens are projected to spend time there in 2022. France could potentially play some second or third base, if the Mariners decided to accommodate Freeman. The Mariners spent big on Robbie Ray and traded for Adam Frazier, but they’re known to be in the hunt for a significant position player addition. I consider Freeman within the realm of possibility, though the more versatile Kris Bryant would fit better if the price tag is similar.
- Rangers: The Rangers have Nathaniel Lowe at first base, and no set DH. Lowe had a nice year for a player who hits the ball on the ground 55% of the time, but bumping him to DH for Freeman wouldn’t be problematic. It’d be staggering for the Rangers to add Freeman after already committing $561.2MM to four free agents, though they could afford it. Pitching has to be a higher priority for this team, but who’s to say they can’t do both?
- Cubs: The Cubs have Frank Schwindel penciled in at first base after a strong couple of months, and no NL team has an incumbent DH. Schwindel is 29 and there was nothing special about his exit velocity or launch angle even in his successful stint. Pushing Schwindel to DH for Freeman wouldn’t be an issue, and the team did make a statement with the Marcus Stroman signing. But that was a surprisingly short three-year deal, and with Freeman we’re talking about double that term to a player who is 19 months older. Freeman just doesn’t fit with the long-term payroll flexibility GM Jed Hoyer enjoys.
- Cardinals: The team has Paul Goldschmidt under contract for three more years, but again, an NL DH would open things up. Signing Freeman would mean stretching payroll to a franchise record, and I doubt the team considers first base/DH a position of need.
- Marlins: The Marlins have Jesus Aguilar under control for next year, but he’s not much of an impediment for a player like Freeman. Here, it’s all about money. A team with a $65MM payroll can afford Freeman, but Avisail Garcia’s $53MM deal seemed like the Marlins’ big free agency strike. Freeman would require more than triple that commitment.
- Mets: The Mets have to be listed here in the name of, “How crazy can Steve Cohen get?” Crazy enough to add Freeman to the $254.5MM the club already committed to free agents this winter, while also forfeiting the 14th pick in next year’s draft? Even with a more significant need in the rotation? I don’t expect Cohen to steal Freeman away from the Braves, but it’d be the ultimate power move.
- Phillies: The Phillies have Rhys Hoskins for two more years. He’s been an excellent hitter, though he will be coming off lower abdomen surgery. The Phillies’ needs at shortstop, third base, left field, and center field are much more stark than at first base/DH. They also have a fairly bloated payroll situation. I suppose Dave Dombrowski could simplify and try to sign Freeman in the name of adding the top bat, but it’d be a surprising choice.
- Nationals: One year of Josh Bell wouldn’t block Freeman. And should the Nats really take any kind of step back with only three more years of control of Juan Soto? But it just doesn’t sound like the Nationals are looking to take on a commitment of this nature this winter.
- Rockies: They’ve got C.J. Cron at first base, but could easily move him to DH for Freeman. The Rockies have relatively modest commitments, which drop quite a bit as of 2024. As a team with real and surprising interest in Kris Bryant, we should consider a possible pursuit of Freeman as well.
- Padres: Freeman is an excellent roster fit for the Padres, who have an underperforming Eric Hosmer locked in through 2025. The team’s payroll is pushing $200MM already, so GM A.J. Preller would need to get creative and move contracts to fit Freeman in. It’s a possibility that can’t be ruled out.
- Giants: The Giants haven’t really demonstrated their financial might yet, committing $99.4MM to four free agents without topping Anthony DeSclafani’s $36MM. DH is the ideal spot for the injury-prone Brandon Belt. Farhan Zaidi does seem to come from the increasingly common GM school of thought that eschews long-term free agent commitments, even in big markets. He’d have to buck that trend to sign Freeman, but otherwise it’s reasonable enough.
- Brewers: The Brewers are a contending team with Rowdy Tellez penciled in at first base, so they at least warrant a mention. It’s just hard to see them outbidding the field to land Freeman in that $180MM range. I could write something very similar for the Guardians.
You’ve seen my opinions; now it’s your turn (direct poll link for app users here).