Why didn’t the Braves pay Freddie Freeman?

Although the consensus in the industry remains that the cornerstone of the Braves franchise Freddie Freeman will eventually end up in Atlanta, few expected Freeman to reach opening day of 2021 – let alone the long-inevitable lockout – without a deal to keep the face of the franchise with the only club he has. has ever known even behind the scenes of his career. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been known to play his cards as close to the vest as any general manager in the game, but it would at least seem like the odds of Freeman joining a friend, mentor and recent MLBTR chatee chipper jones spending an entire Hall of Fame caliber career in Atlanta hit an all-time high.

Based on the most recent reports on the status of talks between the Braves and their soft-swinging southpaw (which came via USA Today’s Bob Nightengale and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman in mid-November), player and team are hooked on both length and value, with the Braves reportedly offering a five-year, $135 million pact and Freeman holding out for nearly six years and $200 million. of dollars. At the start of the offseason, MLBTR predicted that Freeman would eventually land a six-year, $180 million contract, a prediction that roughly matches how the market played out before the lockdown.

As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes observed in December, while there’s no ideal fit for Freeman outside of Atlanta, there’s also no NL team with an established starter. to DH, hypothetically expanding Freeman’s market to NL teams with an entrenched first baseman – including the Dodgers (Max Muncy/Cody Bellinger), the Cardinals (Paul Goldschmidt), Giants (Brandon Belt), and Mets (Pete Alonso) — if the new CBA were to include a universal DH. But not all teams have the payroll flexibility to add Freeman, of course, and few see first base (the least demanding defensive position) or DH (a non-defensive role) as worthy positions. major earners, both of which Anthopoulos is likely relying on as he tries to wait for his star.

Three teams with money to spend (the Dodgers, Yankees and Blue Jays) reportedly kicked Freeman’s tires before the lockout, but Tim notes reasons to remain suspicious of each: in his seven years at the helm of LA, Andrew Friedman has never signed a contract longer than four years to a free agent from another team; the Yankees have more pressing needs at shortstop and in the rotation; and the Blue Jays should either make the transition Vladimir Guerrero Jr. back to third base (where his defense would hurt his huge batting value) or have their young star drop his glove altogether after an early MVP-caliber season. Still, each of those clubs has the financial flexibility to snatch Freeman from the Braves, and it’s unclear how any team will react to the free agent feeding frenzy that will likely follow the end of the lockout.

Fresh off an unlikely World Series, the Braves and their deep-pocketed owner could clearly afford to keep Freeman on the books (the Braves are owned by Denver-based Liberty Media, whose chairman, John Malone, has an estimated net worth of $8 billion, according to MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald). Since Liberty Media is a publicly traded company, the Braves’ profit and loss numbers are in the public domain. The company’s third-quarter 2021 earnings report (which runs July 1 through September 30, roughly the second half of the regular season) records $222 million in Braves-related revenue and operating profit of $35 million while running a payroll of just under $145 million (according to Fangraphs’ RosterResource) — a profit figure that doesn’t include the club’s huge playoff windfall, the surge in sales of championship merchandise or the lucrative bursts of season ticket sales and sponsorship deals that usually follow a title.

To be clear, though he’s been suspicious of the details, Anthopoulos has publicly stated the Braves will have a higher payroll in 2022, a feat they’re likely to accomplish even without a new deal with Freeman. According to Per Cot’s baseball contracts (which include salary estimates for the Braves’ nine major leagues eligible for arbitration), the Braves have already allocated just under $129 million in salary commitments in 2022 and have always need at least one starting caliber outfielder; of the four outfielders the team turned in the playoffs (Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and Adam Duval), only Duvall is currently under contract, and no one knows what to expect from the superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. (returning from a serious knee injury) or Marcell Ozuna (from administrative leave) – or, indeed, if the latter will even stay with the club. Plus, while Acuña has played solidly for several years in center field and Duvall has been successful throughout the playoffs, each is probably best suited for a corner kick. One of the three prospects of Christian Pache, Michael Harris, and Drew the waters is probably the long-term answer in the center, but none have yet shown themselves ready to take over.

How the Braves are choosing to meet that need (as well as for a possible veteran sleeve-eater to complete the stable of young arms they’ll place behind Max fried, charlie morton, and Ian Anderson) remains to be seen, but Soler (who is expected to sign a three-year, $36 million deal) and Rosario (two years, $15 million) are real possibilities. Assuming around $15m in salary in 2022 to meet those needs would put the club around last year’s wage bill figure, and a $30m annual commitment to Freeman would push them significantly higher. beyond any number the property has seemed comfortable with in the past.

These are heady times in Atlanta, sure — and Liberty Media’s track record clearly shows that’s a bump they could profitably absorb — but there are baseball reasons to consider. Freeman will be entering his 32-year-old season in 2022, after all, and the Braves will want to do whatever they can to avoid the kind of grinding deal given to other first basemen (e.g. Albert Pujol, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera) over the past decade. Still, Freeman has been a model of consistency, posting an OPS+ of 132 or more in every season since 2013, and recent years have shown no signs of regressing; the first baseman went on an astonishing run to an NL MVP behind a .341/.462/.640 line in the small 2020 sample by essentially replicating his career numbers (.295/.384/.509 ) in 2021 (.300/ .393/.503) despite an unusually slow start.

The batter’s bat numbers also show no serious warning signs; although his line drive percentage fell to 25.1% in 2021 (his lowest since 2012), his hard hit rate (the percentage of balls hit with an exit speed of 95 mph or more) of 46 .2% was exactly his career number. His strikeout (15.4%) and walk (12.2%) in 2021 are also on the right side of his career numbers (19.7% and 11.7%, respectively).

A six-year contract would see him through his 37-year season (by which time Father Time would likely have made at least some progress), but the recent precedent in Atlanta is on Freeman’s side. Although he never played more than 143 games after his 31-year-old season, Jones remained a productive Brave well into his 40s, even winning a batting title in his 36-year-old season and hosting his two last All-Star appearances at 39 and 40. , while playing a much more taxing defensive position.

How Anthopoulos will choose to play Freeman’s situation on the other side of lockdown remains to be seen, but he’ll almost certainly have to rethink his aversion to a sixth-year to keep his franchise face. The pre-lockout market proved favorable for high-end players; Marcus Semien, who is only a year younger than Freeman and has a much less extensive track record in high-end offensive production, has a seven-year contract, for example, and we don’t even expect to what he is asked to cover the premium position of shortstop. Braves fans are currently on the hunt for their first championship since 1995, but losing the only player they kept after their post-2014 dismantling would surely let some air out of the ball. Land be a native of Atlantan Matt Olson (which would cost the Braves a pretty penny in trading capital) or Anthony Rizo (slated for a three-year, $45 million pact, and which the Braves apparently kicked the tires on) might soften the blow, but the professional or personal stature Freeman has gained over his twelve years as a Brave has also not been achieved.

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