Freddie Freeman’s ultimate free-agent destination has been one of the more fascinating storylines of the offseason. At the outset of free agency, most felt a reunion with the Braves was a fait accompli, but as Freeman’s stay on the market has lingered, there’s been increasing speculation about him signing elsewhere.
We can’t know when we’ll get a resolution, thanks to the ongoing lockout, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that there’s an industry sense that Freeman will act quickly once the transaction freeze lifts. Specifically, Sherman suggests that within 48 hours of the freeze lifting, Freeman’s “path will be publicly known.” The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal suggested something similar, albeit without the specific timeline, when writing late last month that both Freeman and the Braves could “act quickly” post-lockout.
Freeman’s fate is a renewed talking point among Braves fans in the wake of this morning’s earnings report from Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, although the newly available public insight into the team’s financials likely has little to no impact on their pursuit of Freeman. It’s always been a question of whether ownership and/or the front office deems Freeman’s asking price to be a prudent long-term move for the organization, and the team knew those figures would be going public at this point.
Perhaps more interesting, however, is Sherman’s suggestion that one theoretical Freeman suitor, the Blue Jays, has been given ownership approval for a “large increase in payroll” even after the additions of George Springer, Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios over the past year-plus. The Jays’ desire to add a left-handed bat to the mix isn’t exactly a new revelation; they reportedly pursued Corey Seager prior to his deal with the Rangers and have been speculatively tied to names like Kyle Schwarber and the since-retired Kyle Seager. The Jays were even linked to Freeman as far back as Nov. 30. More recently, Rosenthal said on Sportsnet that he expects the Jays to be involved on Freeman whenever the lockout lifts (video link).
Toronto is just one speculative alternative, and Freeman has also been heavily linked to the Dodgers and Yankees in addition to the incumbent Braves. ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested in a recent appearance on the Michael Kay Show (audio link, with Freeman talk starting around 11 minutes) that the Mets at least “checked in” on Freeman prior to the lockout, although SNY’s Andy Martino wrote this morning that the chances of a Freeman/Mets deal coming together border on nonexistent. Olney, too, mentions the Blue Jays as a team that has inquired on Freeman (along with the Dodgers), and he more broadly discusses a growing industry sentiment that Freeman won’t return to the Braves.
The Braves’ best offer to this point has reportedly been a five-year, $135MM contract. He’s said to be eyeing a six-year pact on the heels of another outstanding season. Freeman followed up his 2020 NL MVP Award with a .300/.393/.503 showing and 31 home runs during the regular season, plus a .304/.420/.625 line with five home runs in 69 postseason plate appearances. It was yet another impressive season for the ever-reliable first baseman, who has a wRC+ of 132 or better (indicating he’s been at least 32 percentage points more productive than the league average hitter) every year since 2013.
It’s certainly possible the Braves and Freeman can yet bridge the gap that remained in talks through the imposition of the lockout. Yet Atlanta has at least explored some alternatives. The Braves reportedly looked into Anthony Rizzo as a free agent possibility, and they’ve been mentioned as a potential trade partner with the A’s on Matt Olson on multiple occasions. Sherman speaks with a few agents and one rival executive who speculate that Atlanta could even pivot to pursuing an Olson trade between the time the lockout is lifted and when Freeman signs. The executive notes that someone like Kyle Wright — a big league ready starter who was formerly a top five draftee and highly-regarded prospect — fits the mold of the near-MLB talent the A’s could look for in an Olson deal. Wright no longer has the trade value to center a package that could persuade the A’s to part with Olson, but he’d be a sensible option for Oakland to explore as an ancillary piece in talks with Atlanta.
That’s conjecture from people outside the Atlanta organization, to be clear. What president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos and his staff have planned for the post-lockout scramble won’t become evident until offseason activity actually resumes. Yet the growing industry chatter reinforces that Freeman remaining in Atlanta may not be the lock many anticipated as the Braves entered the offseason riding high on a World Series title, particularly as other possible suitors loom.