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Braves Mailbag: Freddie Freeman contract, Opening Day outfield and more

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Our first mailbag of the offseason!

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Thanks to everyone that submitted questions for this week’s mailbag. We will get back on schedule doing these once every couple of weeks. Let’s get to it.

Will the Braves sign Freddie Freeman and what will his contract look like?

I have been saying that the Braves and Freeman would find a deal since before the 2021 season began and I am not going to change my mind now. I have been pointing to the five-year, $130 million contract that Paul Goldschmidt got from St. Louis as a good starting point for a while now. I still believe that, but waiting for Freeman to hit free agency is probably going to cost the Braves a bit more. A total guess would be in the neighborhood of five years and $150 million. If he really wants to stay and the team really wants him back, then it makes too much sense to not get a deal done.

Do the Braves have to resolve the Freeman FA situation before they address other players?

Not necessarily. Remember they already extended both Travis d’Arnaud and Charlie Morton for next season. They’d probably like to check Freeman off the list early, but it isn’t a requirement. They should have a good read on whether there is a path to a deal and can adjust accordingly. We have seen them pivot quickly in the past, such as after Josh Donaldson signed in Minnesota.

If you had to bet money on the opening day outfield what are your guesses?

Good question! I will go with Joc Pederson in left, Cristian Pache in center and Adam Duvall in right. I also want to add that I don’t think Acuña will be out as long as many are expecting and wouldn’t be shocked if he is close to ready on Opening Day. For now though, this is the direction I am leaning. Pederson could easily be substituted for Rosario.

Who are the most realistic options to be retained in our outfield (Duvall, Pederson, Soler or Rosario?

If you could have one of the two of Rosario or Soler re-sign, who would you take and why?

Lumping these two questions together. Duvall is the most realistic option because he is arbitration-eligible. The Braves only have to tender him a contract and will then have the option to agree to a deal or let an arbitrator set his salary for a one-year deal. Beyond that, it gets hard to separate. I don’t think having Jorge Soler and Marcell Ozuna on the same team is a workable solution. We don’t know what is going to happen with the latter at this point, either. Rosario may be able to ride his hot streak over the final three months into a bigger deal than what the Braves will be willing to pay. I’m sure Pederson will be looking for a multi-year solution and the opportunity to play every day again, but may have a hard time given his relatively poor 2021, even if it wasn’t entirely his fault. If I had to pick between Rosario and Soler, I’d go with Rosario if Ozuna is still on the roster and Soler if he isn’t.

If you could have Marte, Buxton or Mullins play CF, who would you take and why?

If we’re including contract status, the answer has to be Mullins because he is under club control through 2025. Buxton is entering his final year of club control and I wouldn’t be interested in paying the price it would likely take to get him. If you spend real prospect capital to acquire him and he is great, you need to be willing to lock him up long term and I am not sure that is something Atlanta would be interested in doing. If you get him and the injuries continue to hamper him, then you have likely wasted assets. It is a dice roll, but unless winning a World Series has suddenly shifted the organizational philosophy, that isn’t the kind of deal I would expect Alex Anthopoulos to make. Marte just turned 33 and is likely looking for a multi-year deal. I am not sure he could stick in center longterm and will likely need to move to a corner sooner rather than later.

Is there any trade value for Marcell Ozuna?

Probably not until after all of his legal issues are handled, and possibly not even then. Maybe a swap of bad contracts would be possible, but any team that is interested might just wait for the Braves to cut bait with him to avoid taking on that contract. It is also worth noting that he was hitting .213/.288/.356 in over 200 plate appearances at the time of his injury, although he was significantly underperforming his .344 xwOBA.

How can the Braves make any OF plans for 2022 if the status of Ozuna is up in the air?

I think that a ruling from the league would have to come soon. The Braves likely have some insight into what they are looking at with Ozuna and probably know how they will handle the situation. They can’t comment on the matter publicly, but you can bet that it has been discussed internally. For now, Ozuna’s contract is on the books and will continue to be until something changes. That is just something that they are going to have to plan around.

Is it fair to assume that Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras will share the catching duties next season? What are the chances it evolves into more of a timeshare a la the old days of Flowers / Suzuki, instead of d’Arnaud getting the vast majority of the playing time?

One of the under-discussed storylines of the offseason is how will the Braves handle their catching situation. We know Travis d’Arnaud will be penciled in to start, but will the Braves go with Contreras as his backup, or will they sign another veteran and let Contreras get more time at Triple-A to begin the season? I also figure Shea Langeliers will begin next season at Gwinnett and could work his way into the picture as well. At some point though, I think Contreras will be there and we will see the playing time shift. That would better protect d’Arnaud from injury while getting Contreras some valuable experience. While the Braves have been prone to riding d’Arnaud heavily during crunch time, it’s not clear whether they can really afford to do that for an entire season. They could also add a very short-term option, like the apparently clubhouse-popular Steven Vogt, if they don’t want Contreras to get only a tiny fraction of starts.

Given the history of Acuña and Albies’ deals being struck early in their major league tenure and below market value annually for a player of their caliber, has AA seen enough from Austin Riley this season to consider offering a similar long-term, below market value deal?

I’m sure the Braves would love to lock Riley up to one of those type of deals, but under no circumstances should he be willing to take it. The deals that Acuña and Albies signed should have been rejected and both should be moving on from their representation, and though there are some mitigating circumstances in both cases, the deals are pretty crazy. Am I glad both will be in a Braves uniform for a long time? Absolutely, but they are going to be criminally underpaid throughout. Austin Riley, on the other hand, already has a $1.6 million signing bonus and is due for at least double that in his first year of arbitration eligibility, so he is not under as much relative duress to cash in on his talent immediately.

Is it possible that a lockout could benefit the Braves? They played until November. They have about three months now before pitchers and catchers usually report. That’s not a lot of recovery time for players to get ready for another long season.

I get what you are saying but absolutely no one benefits from a lockout. Not the players, not the owners and certainly not the fans.

If we go to a universal DH, I believe there should be some rule changes. What are your thoughts on the following changes below?

“A DH can be for any position and not just the pitcher. If DH is for the pitcher, the DH will be removed from the game if the pitcher is removed from the game after throwing more than 2 innings. If a pitcher is taken out after throwing two innings or less, the DH can stay in the game thus allowing for openers and bullpen games. The player who was the DH becomes a bench player who can return to the game.”

No offense but I hate it. I hope the DH comes to the National League, but I don’t want to see any rule changes attached to it. Just put the DH in as is now and let’s go. Most of the different rule changes that are attached to the DH that get thrown out don’t really make anything more interesting, just more complicated.