The Yankees were known to have interest in former NL MVP Freddie Freeman prior to the lockout, and it appears as though that interest is more than just simple due diligence. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link), the Yankees “love” Freeman and “are expected to take a run at” landing the free agent once the transactions freeze is lifted.
Since it still seems unclear whether Freeman will eventually re-sign with the Braves or perhaps look to join another team, it stands to reason that the Yankees can’t be truly ruled out of a Freeman pursuit until he actually signs a contract elsewhere. Or, conversely, unless the Yankees were to make another big first base acquisition like trading for Matt Olson, or perhaps re-signing Anthony Rizzo.
What would make a Freeman pursuit so intriguing for New York, however, is how it would run counter to how the Yankees have pursued their business this offseason. Prior to the lockout, the Yankees didn’t really do much of anything, with the common thinking being that the Bronx Bombers were perhaps waiting to see the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement before making any major financial commitments. Under how the luxury tax is currently calculated, for example, the Yankees already have more than a $226MM number projected for 2022. Barring a major bump in the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees would certainly surpass the tax line by adding Freeman to their payroll.
The salary forecast notwithstanding, the Yankees were at least linked to such big names as Freeman and some of the top free agent shortstops. However, the team was reportedly planning to wait out the shortstop market until after the lockout, just in case any of the remaining names (now Carlos Correa and Trevor Story) could be had on a shorter-term deal.
Whereas the Yankees think so highly of shortstop prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza that they don’t want to acquire a positional roadblock, their first base situation is a little more crowded in the present. Luke Voit is coming off an injury-plagued season but is still the incumbent at the position, with DJ LeMahieu also in the mix when he isn’t playing third base. The infield picture additionally consists of Gleyber Torres as the everyday second baseman, and Gio Urshela playing third and backing up at shortstop behind a new (stopgap) shortstop that will also be taking an every day role. Giancarlo Stanton is still expected to get the bulk of DH time, though since Stanton will get some usage in the outfield, that will open up the DH spot for one of the infielders to get more playing time.
Despite all the notable names here, Voit, LeMahieu, Torres, and Urshela are all coming off underwhelming seasons, so New York can’t just count on everyone to bounce back. Plus, a proven star like Freeman (even entering his age-32 season) represents such a big upgrade that the Yankees might just prefer to make the signing and then figure out how the pieces fit after the fact. For instance, Voit would seem like the most obvious trade candidate in this scenario, as Voit could be dangled to a first base-needy team that either missed out on Freeman or couldn’t approach his asking price in the first place.
It’s possible the Yankees might also be hoping they can land Freeman at something of a discount price amidst the post-lockout signing frenzy, though that could be more of a difficult play. Teams like the Blue Jays and Red Sox have also been linked to Freeman, the Dodgers and Angels have been noted as possible fits given Freeman’s SoCal roots, and there is still some sentiment that Freeman will ultimately remain with the Braves after all. MLBTR projected Freeman to land a six-year, $180MM deal this winter, and the first baseman is reportedly indeed looking for a contract in that range, though Atlanta (and presumably other clubs) has been hesitant to offer a sixth guaranteed year.
Like Correa and Story, Freeman has draft pick compensation attached since he rejected the qualifying offer. Freeman is five years older than Correa and a little over three years older than Story, plus first base is less of a premium position than shortstop — but it could be argued that Freeman in some ways a safer investment, given how consistent he has been over the last decade. If a team doesn’t want to pay Correa a reported $330MM or make a big nine-figure investment in Story coming off a down year, Freeman may appeal more to a team like the Yankees, who have multiple promising shortstops in the pipeline.
Locking up Freeman on a long-term deal might also be something of a hedge on the Yankees’ part in regards to an Aaron Judge extension. Judge is scheduled for free agency next winter, and he’ll be turning 31 in April 2023. It could be that the Yankees think committing big money to a 32-year-old Freeman through his age-36 or -37 season is a wiser move than paying Judge even more money through his 30’s. Freeman missed time in the 2015 and 2017 seasons due to wrist injuries, but has generally been a very durable player throughout his career. Judge, meanwhile, missed big portions of the 2018-20 seasons due to injury, though he stayed healthy in 2021.