NORTH PORT, Fla. — The player who will fill the position left behind by Freddie Freeman walked into the Atlanta Braves‘ clubhouse for the first time today. Matt Olson entered the building carrying an Oakland Athletics equipment bag that clashed with the colors of the room, then shook hands with Ronald Acuna Jr., Dansby Swanson and others.
Kevin Seitzer, the Braves’ hitting coach, approached Olson and shook hands. “You’re the guy I was thinking about,” said Olson, who will wear the No. 28 uniform that belonged to Seitzer before the trade yesterday. In keeping with baseball’s tradition, Olson will have payback for Seitzer in some form.
Upon Olson’s introduction by the Braves, Atlanta announced an eight-year, $168 million contract for its new first baseman.
On the first day after the trade, the Braves moved forward because that’s what you do in these situations.
Freeman? Well, he’s still waiting to find his next landing spot, and the industry is filled with conversation about where he could land — and in particular, what team will step forward to pay what it will cost to sign him.
Here are some teams that might be a good match for Freeman.
You could make an argument that Freeman’s swing is as well-suited for Fenway Park as that of any hitter since Wade Boggs because, like Boggs, he has an inside-out left-handed swing that consistently drives pitches to left-center field. Freeman would bang line drives off the tin facing of the Green Monster, and as one rival evaluator noted Tuesday morning, the lineup that Red Sox manager Alex Cora could post would be nothing less than extraordinary.
RF Alex Verdugo
A Red Sox lineup like this would rank near the bottom of the league in strikeouts and near the top of stressing pitchers and defenses because of the general ability to put the ball in play. Freeman has good hands that would help out Devers and Bogaerts defensively in a way the smorgasbord of Boston first basemen did not last year.
An argument could be made that as much as Freeman could be an upgrade, the Red Sox would be better off with a more conservative choice of playing (the cheaper) Bobby Dalbec now, and continuing to evaluate him and top prospect Triston Casas.
But right now, Freeman almost certainly would give the Red Sox a better chance at contending in the hypercompetitive AL East, with the Blue Jays now fully joining the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees in the race for the top of the division. With Chris Sale now two years beyond his Tommy John surgery, Nathan Eovaldi heading into his free-agent walk year, Bogaerts in position to opt out of his contract at season’s end and Cora at manager, Boston is in win-now mode. As it should be.
With Corey Seager out the door and Cody Bellinger‘s offensive production something of an enigma, Freeman could give Dave Roberts another hitter who consistently provides tough at-bats. The National League’s adoption of the DH would allow the Dodgers to seamlessly integrate Freeman with last year’s primary first baseman, Max Muncy, who could get a lot of at-bats playing second base or at DH. It also would give the Dodgers some insurance with Muncy coming off an elbow injury that sidelined him for the 2021 postseason. For Freeman, there might be something attractive about playing his home games in his home state; his alma mater, El Modena, is about 40 miles from Dodger Stadium.
The speed bump to a Freeman-Dodgers union might be money. The Dodgers are a franchise of exceptional wealth, but other than the team’s investment in Mookie Betts, L.A.’s front office doesn’t typically go for monster contracts. Rather, their history of free-agent deals includes pacts of three to five years — and although Freeman has a skill set that is likely to linger as he ages, he is a 32-year-old first baseman in an industry that typically veers away from paying big dollars to veterans of that position who are on the downslope of their careers.
And while the ultimate decision of where to sign belongs to Freeman, agents who don’t represent him say the California state taxes can be a real factor in negotiations. “The Dodgers might have to pay him more to offset those,” one agent said. “Will they do that?”
It’s probably a dream of Yankees manager Aaron Boone to drop Freeman’s name between those of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in his lineup — and like the Dodgers, the Yankees have the money. Hal Steinbrenner has the kind of wealth and revenue stream that would allow him to zoom past any luxury tax threshold into the Steve Cohen orbit. Steinbrenner might feel some pressure at the moment to do exactly that, in the face of the staggering spending of the Mets’ owner.
But the Yankees do have an expensive negotiation looming with Judge, who will be eligible for free agency in the fall, and the trade for the 36-year-old Josh Donaldson has added more age to a team that is already older, with big-time financial commitments to Stanton, Gerrit Cole, DJ LeMahieu. The Yankees might be reluctant to spend big on another 30-something player.
The Yankees need a left-handed hitting first baseman and would probably welcome back Anthony Rizzo on a very short-term deal. At the moment, however, Rizzo is aiming for bigger money, not surprisingly, after turning down a five-year, $70 million offer from the Cubs last spring.
Here’s why it makes sense for the Jays to pay for Freeman: He would be the perfect addition to the very young, very right-handed Toronto lineup, balancing the group with his accumulated knowledge and his potent left-handed swing. You can already imagine the top of the lineup Charlie Montoyo might pencil:
SS Bo Bichette
3B Cavan Biggio
Here’s why the deal wouldn’t make sense: The Jays have whopper bills that will come due in the years ahead. Someday, they will have to pay Vladdy Jr., and that’s going to be really expensive; the same is true with Bichette. There are options in the market for the Jays who would allow them to upgrade the roster without committing big dollars — most notably left-handed masher Kyle Schwarber.
The Rays finished second in the offers for Olson, and they have been linked to Freeman as well. He would augment their lineup and their defense, of course. But there are serious doubts in the industry about whether the Rays would spend the kind of money needed to land Freeman. Remember, it was a big deal a few years ago when Tampa Bay signed Charlie Morton to a two-year deal — and Freeman might require a five-year deal, at $25 million to $35 million annually.
Friends of Freeman also wonder how he would feel about playing in what many consider to be the worst home park in baseball — on the artificial surface of the Trop, with more cowbells than season-ticket holders — after spending more than a decade being cheered by Braves Nation. The experience would be very different.