After 12 seasons in Atlanta where he was a 5x All-Star and won the 2021 World Series, three Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove in 2018, and NL MVP in 2020, Freddie Freeman entered this lengthy lockout without a contract. Through various reports, it is now well known that Freeman may not be coming back to Atlanta. The Braves along with the Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, and Red Sox have all been connected to the former MVP. The Yankees probably won’t be willing to pay up for the first baseman and the Angels will have to free up some room. The Dodgers will focus on deciding whether to resign Kenley Jansen or Clayton Kershaw, along with the recovery of Max Muncy (who has been statistically better than Freeman over the last two seasons). Finally, Red Sox will need to focus on fixing up their pitching staff after losing Eduardo Rodriguez to the Tigers and will probably find it best to resign Travis Shaw or go after small market guys like Ronald Guzman, Danny Santana, or Dan Vogelbach. Now some team may come out of nowhere to grab the hottest commodity in this free-agent class, but how far will the Braves go to keep their franchise player from putting on another jersey this summer?
The Braves went as far as they did thanks to their trade deadline acquisitions, not because they were dominant all year long. The Braves lost Acuna in July, Soroka hasn’t seen time since 2020, Ozuna had off-the-field issues, Ynoa missed 2 months, D’arnaud missed time to a thumb injury and Atlanta didn’t get over .500 till early August. However, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos decided to go all in and as a result, Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves won their first World Series title since 1995.
When you think of the name Freddie Freeman, you think of a top 3 first baseman, year in and year out, you think of a career .295 hitter, and you think of the Atlanta Braves. Braves fans want Freddie to stay, Freddie has spoken on how he wishes to return, baseball fans (except for maybe those of the aforementioned teams) want to see Freddie remain in Hotlanta, but what does the Braves front office think about unloading for the 32-year-old fan favorite? If the Braves aren’t willing to pay up, what comes next for the reigning world champs?
Freeman, reportedly, wants a six-year, 200 million deal which averages out to 33 million a year. As of right now, the Braves are about 60.5 million under the tax threshold and have locked up Acuna and Albies beyond 2026. Ozuna is another wild card in terms of what the Braves will do because of his off the field issues and has most of their key guys locked up through next year. Dansby Swanson, Luke Jackson, and Adam Duvall are set to be unrestricted free agents in 2023 and the Braves should look to extend the likes of Austin Riley, Max Fried, and Mike Soroka if he can pitch the way he did before his injury. The Braves have the room to resign Freddie and give him what he wants. But what if they don’t?
Braves fans would be livid at the front office staff, and the Braves may take a hit on attendance at first, but then they will realize that Anthopoulos has the money, prospects, and most important of all, the wits to get the Braves to stay in contention.
Immediately the Braves would have to figure out what to do at first base. Internally, Austin Riley has played 20 games at first, Adam Duvall has played 42 games at first, Travis D’arnaud has played 21 games at first, and their only top 30 prospect that plays first base is Greyson Jenista, who is in AA and hit .219 and had 19 home runs for the Mississippi Braves last season. With not a lot of options internally, the Braves could look at the remaining free-agent first baseman. If Anthony Rizzo is still available, then he would make the most sense as he is a big clubhouse guy like Freddie and would be the next best thing. Or the Braves could pursue a trade for Matt Olson (Oakland), Eric Hosmer (Padres), Luke Voit (Yankees), or Josh Bell (Nationals). For the sake of projections, let us assume the Braves get the best available plan B so we will assume they trade for Matt Olson.
Olson, who is from Georgia, hit for a .271 AVG, clubbed 39 home runs, and had 111 RBIs in 2021 and projections have him set to repeat similar numbers in 2022. Trading for Matt Olson will result in the Braves giving up one or two of their top prospects along with a few other tiers 2 or 3 prospects, but he would instantly replace Freeman’s impact in the lineup. With Olson in the lineup, it will look something like this (assuming the NL has a DH after the lockout agreements):
- Acuna RF
- Olson 1B
- Riley 3B
- Ozuna DH
- Duvall LF
- Albies 2B
- Swanson SS
- D’arnaud C
- Pache CF
This lineup will win games for the Braves. However, with a DH, the Braves could pursue another big bat to replace Freeman. Nick Castellanos, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto, Eddie Rosario, or Jorge Soler would all make sense to give the Braves an extra boost on offense. I think the Braves liked what Eddie Rosario did for them in October and could resign him. So, let’s say they do (2 years, 26-million-dollar contract, based on projected market value), put him in LF, Acuna in CF, and Duvall in RF as Pache goes to the bench to be groomed and used as a defensive replacement for Duvall late in games.
Now let’s assess the Atlanta pitching staff. The Braves rotation projects to look this way on opening day:
Mike Soroka isn’t expected back till June or July but, I expect him to be eased back into the rotation behind Ian Anderson. The Braves need some more starting pitching and with around 35 million available to spend, let’s turn to the free agents. Carlos Rodon and Clayton Kershaw would add another great southpaw to this rotation, but they will likely be too expensive for the Braves. Zack Grienke would fit on a one-year deal, or the Braves could take a flyer on Danny Duffy, Michael Pineda, Tyler Anderson, or Yusei Kikuchi. I like Duffy here as he would add another lefty in the rotation and will likely want around 8-12 million a year. If the Braves take the flyer on Duffy, expect for him to go behind Anderson and move Muller and Wright to the bullpen to add some depth. The Braves bullpen is the unsung hero of the Braves championship last year as Matzek and Minter dominated in October and with both back, here is what their bullpen will look like:
Closer- Will Smith
7,8 inning- Kirby Yates (when healthy), Tyler Matzek
MR- Luke Jackson, A.J Minter, Tucker Davidson
LR- Kyle Wright, Kyle Muller
The Braves have plenty of depth in the bullpen and have seemingly done their due diligence on the available relievers as they have already signed Yates and Darren O’Day (minors).
After trading for Matt Olson and signing Eddie Rosario and Danny Duffy, the Braves still sit pretty with money to spend and prospects to trade. There is no doubt that Freddie Freeman is an irreplaceable piece to the franchise. However, the Braves have the money and the depth to find themselves ready to defend their reign as World Champs.