Let me start out by saying, before I get into anything else, that 1) I would like Freddie Freeman to be a Brave for life and 2) that an extension could easily be announced any day now, or 3) the Braves could even re-sign him during free agency. The extensions for Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies were both announced early in the season in early or mid-April, while players the likes of Chris Martin and Marcell Ozuna were re-signed after becoming free agents. Even allowing Freeman to enter free agency would not mean that he will no longer be a Brave by the time the 2022 season comes around (pending CBA negotiations).
The reasons for bringing back Freeman are obvious. He is the reigning MVP, he is a top hitter in the game, he is beloved among the team and the fanbase, and he has been a major face of the team for a decade. While Freeman may no longer be able to lay claim to being the best player on the team (although the argument certainly could be made for him), he is undoubtedly a huge part of this Atlanta team and its World Series aspirations. Freeman’s quality and consistency on offense are crucial to what this team does at the plate. He has a career wRC+ of 139 and his lowest wRC+ in the last eight seasons was 132. He is tied for 11th in wRC+ since he has entered the league. Freddie Freeman is very good at hitting baseballs.
Alex Anthopoulos has said as recently as Opening Day that both parties want to reach an agreement, and he thinks it will happen. Of course, there was no chance that he would appear on an Opening Day broadcast and tell the fanbase that he is pessimistic on re-signing one of the most popular players on the team, but the assurances he gave did seem fairly strong. I’m also sure that it is indeed true that both the team and the player want a continued relationship, but there’s the whole price thing to consider. With that being said, it isn’t too hard to envision this front office balking at giving Freeman a contract matching the size and length that he would need to pass on collecting bids on free agency.
Freddie Freeman is great right now and has shown no signs of slowing down, with his best season (at least on a rate basis) being his most recent. With that being said, he will be 32 entering the 2022 season and has had both wrist and elbow problems in his career. He also does not play a high-value defensive position, which hurts his overall value — though this could arguably help his case in securing a long-term deal because he may not decline in a way similar to a shortstop that relies on athleticism to rack up defensive value. Freeman’s swing isn’t one that relies on max effort hacks, and therefore may not age poorly. He also has strong bat-to-ball skills, so the usual age-related contact declines may not be as threatening for him as they might be for other players. While all of these things may be true, Father Time is undefeated, as the saying goes, and this is particularly true as we live in an era of unprecedented pitch velocity. It is also worth considering how the newly deadened ball might affect Freeman’s production.
This front office has not been known to give out massive contracts. If a decent starting point for a potential Freeman extension is $150 million over five years, that would be unprecedented for the Anthopoulos-led Braves. It would be the largest total amount and nearly twice the largest average annual value of any contract inked since Anthopoulos took over after the 2017 season. Paying nearly $30 million annually to a player through his age 36 season does not seem on-brand for this front office. The largest multi-year contracts this front office has signed are a wildly team-friendly Ronald Acuna extension through his age 28 season with two team options, a fairly cheap deal for Marcell Ozuna through his age 33 season plus a team option, a wildly out-of-character sizable deal for reliever Will Smith through his age 32 season with an additional club option, and an absurdly team-friendly extension with Ozzie Albies through his age 28 season with two club options.
As you may have noticed, Will Smith aside, the longer deals fit a theme of being below market and having team options. It is hard to imagine this front office giving Freeman a market value contract, especially given that we know that they operate on a constrained budget that tends to be in the middle of the pack payroll-wise while perhaps reaching the fringes of the top 10 in the league at times.
Freeman’s current contract has paid him $135 million over eight years, and he has passed the 10 year pension threshold, so he has already earned enough money to set up generations of Freemans financially, and will earn more irrespective of whether his next deal is a team-friendly deal or not, but neither fans nor the front office should expect him to take substantially less money than he is worth.
If he does hit free agency, teams like the Angels and plenty others will be lurking. They’ve been known to give out megadeals, have a massive contract coming off the books at first base in Albert Pujols, have an exciting core of players, and are essentially his hometown team.
Basically all of this is to say that if Freeman sticks to an ask of a reasonable market value deal, which he has every right and many reasons to do, it would not fit anything the Braves’ brass has done to date to accede to his request. Although it does seem unlikely (to me at least), the Braves may still to do so for myriad reasons, including rewarding him for past performance (less likely) and/or avoiding the PR nightmare that would result from letting such a loyal, respected, popular, and productive player leave (more plausible).
Ultimately, this discussion could and very well may be rendered irrelevant by a tweet announcing an extension any day or any hour at this point, but the longer there is no announcement, the more this discussion will grow. I’m sure the front office wants to keep Freddie Freeman the player and Freddie Freeman the person has also clearly indicated that he wants to remain a Brave. It will just come down to whether the team is willing to break character and pay him a sizable, market-value deal. If not, Freeman will be put in the tough situation of accepting less money than he is worth (and could get on the open market) to stay in Atlanta, or otherwise heading to the Angels or another team that would be willing to pay him market value.