Braves 2021 Player Review: Freddie Freeman

To break the “fourth wall,” so to speak, it’s tough to write this particular piece without something of a cloud hanging over it.

In fact, it’s difficult to put in perspective just what Freddie Freeman has meant to the Atlanta Braves. He was drafted in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft, technically before my wife and I were even a couple – by a day, to be exact. We dated for a year, were engaged for a year and have since been married for more than 12 years.

Since he debuted in the Major Leagues in September of 2010, I’ve changed jobs twice and moved three times in two states. We’ve had two kids, become foster parents and adopted another child. I say all this to say that I’ve had time to do a whole lot of living while Freddie has been in the Brave’s organization.

For his part, Atlanta’s veteran first baseman has also had his share of experiences.

He came up during the team’s Wild Card push in 2010 but wasn’t part of the playoff roster that year. Freddie’s first full year was the collapse of 2011, and then he was around for playoff runs in 2012 and 2013 before the crash-and-burn 2014 season that led to a rebuild. He experienced what had to be three LONG losing seasons, which included injuries and even a temporary position switch to play third base.

So it had to be extra sweet for Freeman, specifically, to be part of these four straight division titles that culminated in the 2021 World Series title. The added sugar on top was that when his team needed a hero, Freddie stepped up.

To be fair, his season had already started turning around after some early frustrations at the plate, but Freeman carried a .270/.379/.478 slash line into the July 10 game in Miami. That’s the game when Ronald Acuna injured his knee, went down for the season and everything went dark for a lot of Braves fans. From July 11 on, Freeman notched a line of .338/.408/.522 line. In fact, July was Freddie’s best month of the season, as the veteran lefty went off to the tune of a .371/.479/.588 line with 36 hits, 19 walks and just 14 strikeouts in 27 games.

As if that weren’t enough, Freeman was everything the Braves needed him to be in the playoffs. Overall, he hit .304 with a 1.045 OPS in the 2021 postseason, and he added five homers with 11 RBIs. Two of those homers came in the World Series, the latter of which felt more like a celebration than anything as he rounded the bases to give the Braves a 7-0 lead in the decisive Game 6.

And this is where this piece gets a lot less fun to write.

If you’re reading this, you already know why that is. The face of the franchise, the 2020 Most Valuable Player, the unquestioned captain of the reigning World Series champion, is a free agent. That home run in Houston may be the last one we ever see Freddie hit as a Brave, and frankly, that sucks more than a little bit.

As one of the longest-tenured members of “Braves Twitter,” I feel like I’m supposed to understand why the team would balk at just giving Freeman whatever it takes to keep him home in Atlanta. He turns 33 this season, meaning any rumored six-year deal would lock him up past his 38th birthday. Freddie’s buddy Chipper Jones played 137 games in his age-32 season and then played more than 135 just once after that. The story is similar with plenty of other hitters: You don’t want to pay guys for too many years after their 30th birthday.

Really, though, I just don’t care. And neither do teammates like Dansby Swanson and Travis d’Arnaud, who openly campaigned for the team to “re-sign Freddie” during the World Series celebration.

Sports, at least for fans, are often about connecting with players. Plenty of people will tell you that they’re fans of the name on the front of the jersey, but that fandom is only deepened by the names on the back. And that’s even more true for the fans that matter the most – the kids.

So if the 2022 season eventually starts, and Freddie isn’t a Brave, I’ll understand. The money that could go towards paying him over the next several years could easily yield greater results if spent in multiple other spots, and I get that. But sometimes, decisions like this need to be made with the soul of the franchise in mind more than the numbers in the box score.

And I’m not ready to be done watching Freddie in a Braves uniform.

29 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Freddie Freeman”

  1. I don’t care even a little if Freddie becomes an albatross towards the end of his career. If anyone has earned it, he has. Pay the man. Pay him until the day he retires, then continue to pay him to coach or broadcast or work in the front office be a Spring Training instructor. I don’t ever want to see him wear another major league uniform. If he’s replacement-level while he’s being feted around the league during his farewell season, it’s still money well-spent.

    I can’t think of a better way to sour a championship than to let Freddie leave while welcoming Ozuna back. Different circumstances, I know, but what are we saying here?

  2. Yup. If the 2022 season eventually starts, and Freddie isn’t a Brave, I won’t understand. I’ll kick and spit and scream till I’m blue in the face. I’ll feel the exact same way I felt when the Braves traded Andrelton Simmons for a lottery ticket and salary relief — like something has broken inside my lifelong love of baseball and of the Braves.

  3. (from previous)Our childish labor impasse should still not be compared for slimy fatuity with the NFL show these past weeks as they approach their Day of Days, perfect timing.

    ‘100 grand…every game you lose…you know it makes sense’. You cannot go lower than that. Until you include the recipient of such an offer- he who would have to actually arrange this, and is Black, the donor white.

    So, man the pumps, nothing is off limits. To shut all this up, call in Roger, have him briefed as to what he should say, word for word preferably, then haul him off, no questions.

    Goodell at 55 million dollars and still counting – this man is not only a pathetic national disgrace, he is a venal pawn to the degree we must hope Manfred will not aspire.

    Who dey? Young men playing it out in the full glare of the corporate establishment and its ‘customs’ deserve so much better for the biggest day in their lives. I like to believe our corruption base does not extend much beyond the odd garbage can and an excess of misplaced ‘dust’. Already corrected!

    Such innocence.

  4. Universal DH and no more compensation picks in the draft for lost FAs.

    Official per Manfred.

    Hate the universal DH although I would say that the fact it was in one and not the other was untenable and unfair. It probably realistically is easier to add it in the NL than to remove it in the AL…

    No opinion really on the compensation picks. I’d assume that it will make signing your FAs more of a priority although I can’t be sure on that. Before, you’d at least assuage your disappointment with a scratch off lottery ticket, but alas no more.

  5. @5

    I love getting rid of the draft pick penalty for signing free agents. The teams who would be most deterred from signing a free agent by having to give up a draft pick, were the exact teams that the rule was meant to benefit. All it did was even further ensure that big-money teams would get most of the top free agents.

  6. It’s not exactly official, it’s just part of their counteroffer that they’re choosing to make public. They still have to agree to it.

  7. If anything, Manfred is floating it so that when the players, incensed by his innumerable other ridiculous comments/outright lies, reject the owners’ counteroffer, he can say he offered them something they wanted and those greedy players rejected it anyway.

    (I’ll never get tired of the owners pretending baseball makes no money. “We’re just garbage at running our legal monopoly, folks. We’ve got all the cards and went bankrupt. We’re shooting fish in a barrel and the fish dodged. Anyway, take our proposals about the financial future of the sport seriously, please.”)

    Draft pick compensation is a concession, but a minor one. It affects maybe fifteen guys a year. The owners would cheerfully trade it for keeping the rest of the pre-FA salary structure the same and not touching the luxury tax or revenue sharing.

  8. @8 What’s being negotiated that’s not being given to the players that, if given to the players, would absolve the owners?

    I have suspicions that these things are inkblot tests. How you feel about billionaires/ultra wealthy people is probably guiding your opinion on the negotiations. If you hate them, they can’t do anything right.

    If I were the players, I’d just strike the whole damn season and get everything you want. Most of the players can probably afford to. And for the ones who can’t, the centimillionaire players can more than handle taking care of the younger players. And then you can actually make some serious headway in the negotiations that would create even more generational wealth for both current and future players. Why not do that?

  9. I don’t know about “absolve” — this is a labor negotiation, not a confession. But if I’m the players, my wish list looks something like this:

    1) Vastly improved minimum/pre-arb salaries. We want to discourage teams from running operations where they can throw out a no-money operation and still profit, no matter how bad the team is. In addition, we want players to make enough money by default that they don’t feel compelled to take team-friendly extensions for personal financial security and drive down the market for players. (The owners, thus far, have refused to offer even an equivalent minimum pay raise to the last several wildly owner-friendly CBAs.) The owners won’t agree to a floor, so make the de facto floor (minimum times 25) something they feel. In addition, this makes signing a major league veteran a more valuable proposition, since a young player isn’t such a ridiculously skewed value proposition by comparison.

    2) Disallow/disincentivize service time manipulation. Not only do we not want teams holding down their top prospects to buy another year of service time, we also want to prevent situations like in Tampa Bay where relievers can pitch parts of five seasons before reaching arbitration, because the front office is so adept at manipulating their service time. (The owners have offered universal free agency at 29.5 years of age, which helps specifically those kinds of players, but screws over players who reach the majors young by making their pre-FA period eight or nine years instead of six and is thus basically a non-starter. I myself like the idea that if a player spends so much as one day on a major league roster, that counts as a full season as far as service time goes.)

    3) Earlier free agency, or a route to earn it. Players should be able to capitalize on their talents at the peak of those talents, not after they’ve already started to fade. Plus, it becomes much more difficult to run a team on a rotating series of pre-arb talent when team control is lesser on average.

    4) Resist all efforts by the owners to give themselves free caches of profit via the luxury tax or revenue sharing. The luxury tax does nothing to increase competition and only allows owners to artificially constrain player salaries and keep more revenue for themselves. (The owners have attempted to lower the luxury tax thresholds and make the penalties for exceeding them more punishing to discourage teams from ignoring it.) Revenue sharing allows disaster organizations to remain profitable even when they’re blatantly trying not to compete. We want teams trying to compete every single season, so we need to cut off their means of raking in cash even when they refuse to do so. (The owners have resisted every attempt to alter the revenue sharing system.) If you think tickets or beer will be cheaper with a hard cap, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    5) Attempt to push back against the owners’ 15+-year-project of limiting the salaries of amateurs. Specifically raising or removing the limits on draft and international spending. Young players are valuable, and they should be paid as such. Moreover, restricting how much teams can spend on them further shifts the balance towards underpaid young players and makes it difficult for teams without a lot of present-day talent to improve their fortunes.

    The owners don’t get expanded playoffs until they stop trying to conceal their revenue and stop actively preventing the players — and all the players, not just the stud free agents — from receiving their fair share of those revenues. But I’m no labor lawyer.

  10. I’m fine with all five of those. But for me, by far the most odious attribute of modern sports is the prevalence of tanking.

    Some teams just starve the payroll and pocket the revenue sharing, and if they win that’s fine and if they don’t that’s fine. Other teams tank because they are trying to sell everything for prospects, then start over, and THEN actually try to win. That’s what the Astros and Cubs and Braves all did. The championship was wonderful, but the years of intentionally losing were miserable.

    And they also genuinely violate the spirit of sportsmanship and of the game itself. Plenty of teams now are essentially trying to throw games because it’ll get them a better draft pick. The players rightfully hate it. The fans of the teams who tank hate it too. The owners like it, because tanking exerts a downward pressure on salaries. But it makes a mockery of the sport, when most of the teams in the league are busy flopping harder than a Brylcreemed Premier League footballer.

    Why even have 30 teams, if only ten of them are ever actually trying?

  11. If not by revenue sharing, what’re you going to do, if anything, to keep the smaller market teams from never having the money to compete? I understand you don’t want them to make a profit by doing nothing, but you don’t want the larger market teams to have all the money to spend, either.

    My proposal (which people inevitably say is unrealistic, although I disagree [note: I mean I agree it won’t happen, but if it happened I think it could work]) is to delink salaries from revenues completely, except in aggregate. Promise the players so many billion dollars per year and let them split it up amongst themselves in a show of union solidarity. Then you win by putting the best team on the field, and somebody else pays them.

  12. @10

    Very well done.

    this is a labor negotiation, not a confession

    This was funny, by the way.

    It sounds like you just want the young players to be paid better.

    What if the players moved the needle a few ticks up to take a slightly larger share of the revenue towards labor? And then all of what you recommended happen — inputting the draft compensation system, paying guys better in pre-arb/arb, getting guys to FA faster, etc. — but it came at the cost of free agent contracts. Even if the players got a few more ticks of the revenue, what is already happening would increase: long-term deals get shorter with decreasing AAV’s as the years progress. Are you ok with that? It has to come from somewhere, and my point from the other day still stands that the older players don’t give a flyin’ flip about the younger players, and any attempt to increase compensation to younger, more unproven players will result in a reduction in free agent contracts, which the people negotiating these deals don’t want. But are you willing to acknowledge that’s what will happen? And what’s your response to it?

    Overall, I agree with most of your list that all of those things should happen. Compensating young players is in an archaic system that is not acknowledging that if a guy puts up 1-2 years of elite performance, he’s probably not done doing that for a really long time. So pay him like that’s true. I agree that the arb system is just a complete suppression of wages.

    The players agreed to luxury tax/revenue sharing, if I’m not mistaken, and I think every party to this whole thing thinks it’s an overall good for the game, so that’s the only item to push back on. Overall, thank you for taking the time to write it up.

    Here’s my final question: if the players also really want those things, which I hope they do, should they be willing to do what is necessary to get it (strike)?

  13. Thanks bravesword. That is a good summary of what I’d like the players to achieve as well. Like Rob says, it often does depend on which side you favour as to who you agree with (me, players of course). But I really don’t understand the League’s position / optics here. You instigate a lockout to supposedly induce negotiations, but then the League has only offered one full proposal in 10-weeks, and none since Feb 1. It seems like they are delaying, hoping players will get antsy and sign up to any deal the owners put forward. I guess that’s their prerogative. But its frustrating for fans, especially as the players say they’re happy to deal face-to-face anytime. The owners tactics aren’t endearing me to their side of things at all.

    Oh well, I guess we’ll see what deal the League offers on Saturday. I hope they offer some real movement on the luxury tax and revenue for pre-arb players. Otherwise I really, really doubt the season will start on-time.

  14. I’m not defending the owners, for clarity. They have more money than they’ll ever need, and they’re denying their services to normal folks because they want more.

    But so are the players.

    Wife came home yesterday and said, “Ok, I can’t contain my excitement any further. I got you and I tickets to the Braves’ spring training game in Tampa on March 4th.”

    “Oh, honey, there’s something I have to tell you…”

  15. To Rob’s question, the plan of refusing to come back unless this demand that you know the other side won’t agree to is met doesn’t really seem to work in practice. It’s what the owners essentially did in 1994 after the players struck. They basically refused to come back without some form of salary cap…and they wound up being forced to come back after a lost postseason without some form of salary cap. The NHL also torpedoed a whole season and came back without a huge amount of change and with people wondering what the point of canceling a season was. “Let’s just refuse to come back until we get everything we want” sounds effective in theory, but it doesn’t really work that way.

  16. Who thinks if we resign Freddie and we got also and get Rosario … OF would be Rosario , Duval and Acuna with Ozuna at DH … FF at 1st, Albies 2b , Swan at ss , Riley at 3b and D’arnuad – c ..make that lineup out .. if for some reason they dont sign Freeman ..please pay the man … then I think we could opt for Soler possibly instead of Rosario but that puts Soler in OF every day .. Ozuna really messed us up .. if he cant be moved then he will be the DH unfortunately ( would rather see Soler in that role ) – but if FF is not back then they HAVE to a have LH power hitter at 1st base .. who fits that … Olsen but doubt A’s ever give him up … so lets say Olsen was obtainable .. you have a very strong lineup … either way .. what are some opinions ?? and what is reasonable ???

    Acuna -RF
    Albies – 2b
    Freeman – 1b
    Riley – 3b
    Rosario – lf
    Duval – cf
    Ozuna – dh
    Swanson – ss
    D’arnaud – c

    and if LH pitcher was going you could move Rosario down or have a platoon option . now if Freeman not back then lets see

    Acuna, rf
    Albies ,2b
    Riley,3b
    Olson, 1b ( if attainable – if not maybe Joc Peterson as everyday 1B or platoon)
    Duval, cf
    Rosario, lf
    Soler , dh ( if we can offload Ozuna)
    Swanson,ss
    d’arnaud – c

    very strong lineups .. defense in OF gonna be a little iffy but its a good tradeoff .. these lineups would be feared

  17. @19

    You don’t think they’d get more if they struck? Surely they would. Now, would the gain be worth striking over? That’s really the point you’re making. I don’t know the NHL’s labor agreement and economics well enough to know if MLB’s situation is analogous to NHL’s. Plus, it depends on what’s being asked for. What if the NHLPA or whatever was being unreasonable and over-played their hand? It seems like anyone with an opinion wants the players to have a larger share of revenue and for draft compensation and pre- and post-arb salaries to be higher. That can’t get done with forcing the owners to lose hundreds of millions in revenue?

    And if not, then what’s the debate even about? Because by that logic, it sounds like the owners are going to do what they’re going to do anyway, and this is all meaningless. Well, maybe you do feel that way…

  18. Some Bill Shanks anti-Freddie Freeman propaganda for your Friday afternoon.

  19. @21

    I don’t think they would force the owners into giving them a deal that revolutionized how baseball’s economics are done if they walked away right now and refused to play this year. That is what I am saying, yes. The deal the owners would be open to then would be very similar to the deal they’d be open to through negotiations now. You might actually be able to extract more now than then.

  20. @20, in your second (no-FF) lineup, wouldn’t Joc in LF and Rosario at 1B be better defensively? Joc is a better defensive outfielder than Rosario — he has played a good bit of center, while Rosario has been strictly a LF. I don’t know if there’d be too much difference between them at 1B.

  21. @22 Bill Shanks is a dinosaur.

    Re: Freddie. It’s not my money so I shouldn’t get to dictate how Liberty Media spends it but I will anyway: not re-signing Freddie after moving into a publicly-funded ballpark that the fans have been real good about filling up on the reg is a real dick move.

  22. He’s well-sourced and loves the team, but I don’t think he’s a particularly insightful analyst.

  23. I don’t have anywhere else to post this, so I’ll post it here. My wife pronounces “Bengals” as if they are QB’d by Susanna Hoffs and the day after the Super Bowl will be just another Manic Monday. Factor that in to your betting dispositions if you like.

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