Atlanta Braves GM on Freddie Freeman

The Atlanta Braves have extended a qualifying offer to star first baseman Freddie Freeman, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos said the reigning World Series champions’ goal is to “keep him a Brave.”

Freeman, who has spent his entire professional career in the Braves organization, officially became a free agent Sunday after Atlanta’s exclusive negotiating window expired.

The Braves extended Freeman the $18.4 million, one-year qualifying offer later Sunday, which Anthopoulos noted was part of the “process.”

“Look, he’s a free agent. By rule, obviously I can’t say a whole lot, other than what I’ve said in the past,” Anthopoulos told reporters. “We love him, he’s great, we want him to stay, he wants to stay.

“How the process plays out and goes from there … I can’t really get into any specifics. But very similar to what I’ve said in the past, our goal is to sign him and keep him a Brave.”

Freeman, 32, also has emphasized that he wants to remain in Atlanta, saying last week that “everyone knows where my heart is.” The five-time All-Star overcame a slow start to the season to bat .300 with 31 home runs, 83 RBIs and a National League-leading 120 runs. He also batted .304 with five homers in the postseason as the Braves won their first World Series since 1995.

Anthopoulos said Sunday that the Braves planned to increase their payroll in 2022 but did not elaborate how that would impact contract negotiations with Freeman. The Braves have 13 arbitration-eligible players on their roster and some high-profile free agents, including World Series MVP Jorge Soler and NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario.

Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP, is a career .295 hitter with 271 homers in parts of 12 seasons — all with the Braves.

“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Anthopoulos said. “I don’t know what his career stats are right now, but in my mind, he is going to be a Hall of Famer. He’ll be one of the greatest Braves that ever played. Won an MVP, won a World Series — he’s done everything.

“We’ve been very clear, we want him to stay and he wants to stay. But we’ve seen other examples of players that have gone through this. Sometimes it just takes time and there’s a process that takes place. We’d love to have all these things done sooner, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”

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