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Braves Mailbag: Freddie Freeman, Starting Rotation and more

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Our final mailbag of 2021 is here!

MLB: NOV 05 Atlanta Braves World Series Championship Parade and Celebration Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thank you to everyone who sent in questions for our mailbag segments this year. This has become one of my favorite things to write so I appreciate that there has been interest. As expected, most of this week’s questions centers on Freddie Freeman but I also discuss the starting rotation and the rebuild. Let’s get to it!

Do you think winning the World Series makes Freddie Freeman’s desire to return to the Braves more or less likely, or has no effect?

I don’t think winning the World Series in 2021 is a factor in Freddie Freeman’s free agency. If he were to leave, perhaps there would be a sense of closure that he was able to help guide the franchise through the rebuild. Still, ultimately I don’t think it is much of a factor. If Freeman truly wants to stay in Atlanta and if the team really wants him back, then I think there is still a path to a deal.

Leaving the emotional aspect aside, and looking at the potential Freddie Freeman signing from strictly a business perspective, does it make sense to tie up $30 million a year for 6 years in an aging athlete? Why not offer Freddie more in the first 4 contract years and less in the last two or have a team option tied to each of the final two contract years?

From what we have seen during Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure with the Braves, it is likely that Atlanta would love to bring back Freeman on a shorter deal to preserve their flexibility. The problem is that Freeman is likely looking for the security that a long term deal would provide. Yes, there have been some badly sourced reports about numbers being thrown around, but we don’t really know what the negotiations for a new contract have looked like. The Braves can offer him anything they want, but he doesn’t have to accept it.

As far as whether it makes sense, I don’t see that much difference in a five- or a six-year deal for Freeman. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and the DH eventually coming to the National League should lessen some of the aging concerns. There’s a way to use reasonable assumptions and try to argue for either length of deal, and it probably comes down to total money rather than length, since later years are more likely to be effectively write-offs anyway. It still remains unclear why this situation has drug out as long as it has. The Braves allowed Freeman to reach the open market, and that’s going to cost the Braves more money. That is just the nature of the business.

Wouldn’t trading for Matt Olson for 1B just “kick the can down the road” as they will be back to square one in two years after losing valuable prospects?

I still think that if Freeman were to sign elsewhere, that swinging a deal for Oakland first baseman Matt Olson would be the best possible move. Such a deal would require Alex Anthopoulos to move some of his top rated prospects, which isn’t something that he has shown a willingness to do during his time in Atlanta.

In a way, getting Olson would be kicking the can down the road. But, the Braves don’t currently have any internal options that would come close to replacing Freeman’s production. Olson could come as close as any to doing that and would be two years younger than Freeman when he reaches free agency in 2024. The Braves aren’t only concerned about the future right now, as they also want to win in 2022. That means they want current wins more than worrying about what they might need to do three years from now. That doesn’t mean they should torch the entire system for the 2022 roster, but “kicking the can down the road” suggests there’d be no actual benefit to replacing Freeman’s production, when that benefit should be self-evident.

Keeping Freeman in an Atlanta uniform is still the top priority in my opinion, but acquiring Olson would be the best case scenario if Freeman were to sign elsewhere.

Can the Braves pursue Eddie Rosario or any other free agent without knowing what Freeman may cost?

I don’t think Freeman’s free agency is really holding Atlanta up in terms of addressing other positions. They know internally what they are prepared to spend in 2022 and know the holes that need to be filled regardless of whether Freeman returns or not. We have seen them pivot quickly in past offseasons and I don’t believe the current situation would prevent them from doing so. They presumably have a top number they won’t exceed for Freeman, so it’s just a matter of not crunching themselves in terms of making role player-type signings.

A big hug to all from the Dominican Republic. My question is... if you had to make three more movements to form the team of the Braves next season (only three more) what would those movements be (you can divide them between ideal and realistic)

Thanks for what I believe is probably our first mailbag question from the Dominican Republic. If I could make three more moves for the Braves this offseason they would be:

  1. Re-sign Freddie Freeman. Again, they can’t plug this hole internally. Trading for someone like Matt Olson would cost some money and prospects. Find some common ground and get a deal done that keeps Freeman in Atlanta for the remainder of his career.
  2. Sign a veteran starter for the back end of the rotation. The pitching market moved fast before the lockout so it remains to be seen who could be had on a short deal. Atlanta has several internal options but I think they need to add at least one more arm. If the past two seasons have shown us anything it is that you never have enough rotation depth.
  3. Dump Marcell Ozuna and sign Jorge Soler. The Braves would likely have to swallow some money to move Ozuna but keeping him around is just a black eye and self-inflicted damage. Soler would likely be available on a shorter commitment and could slot in as the DH or a corner outfield slot. Eddie Rosario would be another option as well, but Soler would be my first choice due to his superior on-base skills.

How do you see the Braves’ starting rotation shaking out? Do you think they just let the young guys compete or will they try to add another arm post-lockout?

Do Wright and Muller have an advantage to making the team over Strider and Elder (who haven’t pitched much in AAA) based on experience and age?

As I mentioned above, I think they will add another veteran starter to the mix. I think the progress Kyle Wright made in 2021 probably gives him a bit of an edge in the competition. But then again, we also thought that after 2020, and he barely factored into the Braves’ 2021 until the postseason. Kyle Muller, Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder could probably use some more time at Triple-A, but could be ready at some point in 2022. For two straight seasons, the Braves have saw their rotation depth evaporate due to injury and underperformance. This is an area where it is virtually impossible to have too much depth.

At this point are the Braves assuming Mike Soroka won’t pitch in the majors in 2022?

While it probably wouldn’t be smart to count on much from Mike Soroka, I don’t think they have completely written him off for 2022. The most recent report was that they were targeting a possible return for mid-summer. If that weren’t the case, then they probably would have seriously considered non-tendering him before the deadline.

Did you expect the team to transcend the international sanctions and win a championship when they were handed down? This seemed like the MLB was making an example of the Braves, especially considering the punishment the Red Sox got a year earlier for the same infraction. For me when the they took the international draft in this way it seemed like we might be in a perpetual rebuild for another 5 years. Do you think the Braves “over” achieved or were lucky to win the Series under these circumstances?

I don’t think think the sanctions placed on the Braves were going to impact the core group that was already nearing the major leagues. I think the biggest question mark with the sanctions were whether they would shorten their window. I don’t think that question has been answered quite yet either. As their top prospects advanced to the Major League level, it was going to be hard to maintain a quality minor league system. The sanctions made that even more difficult and we have seen that lack of depth start to show up at the lower levels. I think the Braves were fortunate that players such as Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies were as good or better than advertised. Austin Riley’s breakout season certainly help hold things together in 2021, but the Front Office also made some pretty shrewd moves to supplement that talent. I don’t think baseball is like other sports. Every team that wins a World Series is fortunate and no doubt had something break their way along the path.