It’s the number one question on every Atlanta Braves fan’s mind…
Will they re-sign Freddie Freeman?
To the surprise of absolutely no one, it’s the one question I’ve fielded the most. And that’s been going on for a while now.
So, at the risk of opening myself up to a line of thought and an entire writing exercise that may or may not age well, let me just start by saying that I do believe the Braves will re-sign Freddie Freeman.
Allow me to qualify that with a rather obvious statement:
The Braves need to re-sign Freddie Freeman.
For whatever reasons, the club was unable to come to terms with its star first baseman before he hit the free-agent market. Now that Freeman can speak with any and all interested teams, the negotiations have changed. But I wouldn’t say it’s radically different than what the two sides were facing over the past year or more in discussions.
They still have to collectively bridge a gap – in both years and money – in order to continue a relationship that has not only been mutually beneficial, but may also lead Freeman to Cooperstown one day.
When Freeman signed his 8-year, $135 million contract in February of 2014, the largest in franchise history, he was still an up-and-coming player. Though some believed Atlanta-area native Jason Heyward would long be the club’s centerpiece, Atlanta chose to invest in the 24-year-old Freeman and then held onto him despite immediately embarking on a multi-year rebuild that saw the Braves suffer through their leanest years since the 1980s.
Freeman rewarded them with a run that firmly places him among the greatest players to ever put on a Braves uniform. A multiple time All-Star and Silver Slugger with a Gold Glove and a nice, shiny MVP award already on his resume, Freeman is fresh off helping lead the Braves to their first World Series title in 26 years.
To cut to the point, Freeman not only earned every penny of his previous deal, but has given the Braves more than enough reason to hand him another lucrative long-term contract.
So, what could this deal look like…
Let’s get right to work here. I think we can point to Paul Goldschmidt’s 5-year/$130 million contract signed in 2019 as the ground floor for Freeman’s next deal. There are a lot of similarities between the two, including the career production and the age each was or will be upon signing a new pact.
Goldschmidt was 31 when he inked that extension with the Cardinals and was coming off a seven-year run during which he posted a .299/.400/.534 slash line and averaged 37 doubles, 29 homers, 98 RBI, 97 runs scored and a 5.1 fWAR per season for Arizona. Then came his offseason trade to St. Louis and the extension that followed in spring training.
Freeman just finished his age-31 season and owns a .302/.394/.523 line with an average of 39 doubles, 30 home runs, 101 RBI, 106 runs scored and 5.2 fWAR per 162 games played since his first All-Star campaign in 2013. That is a sustained run of production, but I used the 162-game samples to account for the 60-game season in 2020.
As you can see, we have a pretty good comparison on our hands. But it gets even better.
You probably won’t be shocked to discover that when you scroll down Freeman’s Baseball-Reference page to the “Similar Batters” section, you’ll find Goldschmidt as the top comparable player. Originally introduced by Bill James nearly four decades ago, the similarity score allows us to compare players, starting at 1,000 points and then deducting points based on the statistical differences.
The Freeman-Goldschmidt similarity score of 948.8 is off the charts and illustrates a near-mirror image of two of the best first baseman over the last decade. It also gives us a fine baseline for my supposition on potential contract value.
Last season, Freeman finished up his eight-year deal making $22 million, checking in as the 28th highest paid player in baseball according to Spotrac. As I’ve illustrated and you no doubt already know, he’s in line for a raise.
So, if we go back to the Goldschmidt deal with St. Louis, it calls for a $26 million average annual value. That AAV or better would vault Freeman inside the Top 20 highest paid players in the sport.
Again, I want to stress that’s just for starters and the sake of comparison. If we’re looking for length of contract, that would certainly not be limited to the Goldschmidt deal.
In fact, I could also see the Braves building an extension that resembles Christian Yelich’s 2020 arrangement with Milwaukee. That 7-year/$188.5 million deal averages out to roughly $27 million on the AAV.
Could the final two years of a potential deal involve club options with healthy buyouts that up the overall guaranteed value of the contract? I believe they could. It would allow for Freeman’s overall dollars to approach $150 million (or more) over five years – if the final two years of this hypothetical seven-year arrangement are options.
Perhaps there would even be an eighth-year option to take Freeman into his age-39 season and push the total deal over the $200 million plateau.
Of course, there is the possibility that some other club could approach Freeman ready to guarantee seven or eight years and $200 million or more. That could very well happen.
However, I’m inclined to believe that if the Braves are competitive with their offer in both years and dollars, then Freeman will be amenable to doing exactly what he’s said he wants to do all along and remain in a Braves uniform for his entire career.
While Freeman’s age is not a detriment or deterrent to landing a long-term deal, it’s worth noting that he’s not walking into free agency entering his prime and only in his 20s – like a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado for example. Conversely, I also think teams have learned about the financial dangers of handing even the best 30-something first basemen a monster contract after Albert Pujols (10-years, $240 million in 2011) and Miguel Cabrera (8-years, $248 million in 2014) got their paydays and then regressed sharply.
Ultimately, it’s up to Alex Anthopoulos to put together a deal that will allow the Braves to retain one of the best players in baseball and one of the most important contributors to the club’s success over the past decade. With strong attendance numbers and surging revenues, Anthopoulos has already indicated his team’s payroll will go up in 2022. Re-signing Freeman would no doubt account for a big chunk of that.
Finally, there’s something we don’t know, yet hangs like a dark cloud over the winter.
That is how MLB’s labor situation will play out. While there was some tepid optimism expressed by both sides during the World Series, there are a lot of hurdles to clear in order to secure a new CBA. Suffice it to say, both sides only stand to benefit from getting a deal done. But we’ve seen this movie before.
For the Braves and Freddie Freeman, the fairytale ending is out there.
It just has to be written.