It’s been apparent since the Braves acquired and extended first baseman Matt Olson that Freddie Freeman is likely headed elsewhere in free agency, but Freeman made that all but official this afternoon when he thanked Braves fans and bid them and the organization farewell on Instagram this afternoon.
“…Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” wrote Freeman. “It has been a blast to have you cheer for me and I hope I was able to bring smiles to a lot of your homes over the years. I gave everything I had day in and day out and I hope you guys saw that as well. Although our time has come to an end, I look forward to seeing and playing in front of you all again. When that time comes, I hope you remember all the wonderful memories we made together. I love you Braves Country! Champions Forever!”
It’s not clear whether Freeman’s message is a portent for an agreement with a new team or simply an acknowledgement that the first chapter of his storied career has drawn to a close. Several possible landing spots for the 2020 NL MVP have dried up in the past few days, as the Braves not only essentially replaced him with Olson, but the Yankees struck up a deal to bring Anthony Rizzo back to the Bronx.
Reports recently have suggested that Freeman remains of interest to the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rays and Padres, although each destination comes with its own reasons for some degree of skepticism. Freeman has reportedly sought a six-year deal that would carry him through his age-37 season, and the Dodgers tend to prefer higher annual salaries and shorter terms than that six-year target. To that end, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote this week that L.A. is “believed” to have offered a four-year deal to Freeman that includes a sizable annual value.
Looking to Freeman’s other reported suitors, the Padres have spent more than a year trying to move Eric Hosmer, who still has four years and $59MM remaining on his contract. As explored more in depth here at MLBTR yesterday, it’s difficult to see that deal coming together without several other pieces falling into place first.
The Red Sox have been comfortable exceeding the luxury tax in the past, but they opted not to do so and have at pair of interesting young first base/designated hitter types already in Bobby Dalbec and prospect Tristan Casas. It’s doubtful that either would stand in the way of Boston signing a player of Freeman’s caliber, but the luxury tax concerns present a more feasible roadblock. Still, SNY’s Andy Martino tweeted this morning that the Yankees believe their archrivals’ interest in Freeman is sincere.
As for the Rays, their interest is said to be real but also comes with the most obvious hurdles of the bunch. Tampa Bay’s payroll is perennially among the lowest in the sport, and while the long-term books are exceptionally clean (as noted when first examining their reported offer), a free agent of Freeman’s caliber heading to Tampa is entirely without precedent. It was a surprise several years ago to see the Rays reel in Charlie Morton on a $30MM guarantee that spanned two seasons; Freeman could command an annual salary in that range over a longer term. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted this morning that Tampa Bay has remained “aggressive” in its surprising pursuit of Freeman, but an actual deal between the two parties would still register as one of the largest free-agent surprises ever.
The lack of obvious suitors for a massive five- or six-year commitment and the recent decisions by the Braves and Yankees to move on has created a sense among some executives in the game that Freeman’s camp overplayed its hand, Jim Bowden of The Athletic tweets. That’ll be determined by Freeman’s ultimate contract, of course, but his path to the massive contract that once appeared to be a given looks a bit less clear now than it did when the Yankees and Braves were still in the market for his services.