Freddie Freeman looks to be worth more to the Dodgers than to the Braves after fifteen years with the franchise, the last four as a top ten MVP finisher. It only makes sense when teams are guided by ageing curves rather than the halo effect of signing, developing, and maintaining a franchise star.
Atlanta looked to be shifting away from Freeman, 32 when it shipped four young players to Oakland to get first baseman Matt Olson, who is four years younger than Freeman (and two years away from his own free agency). Olson is as capable a Freeman substitute as there is. He is not, however, a Freeman.
Maybe there’s a big strategy to keep Olson and Freeman, but the Braves haven’t shown any evidence of it. Freeman told pals last year that if the Braves dragged their feet on contract offers, he was ready to return to his roots in Southern California. Atlanta passed up the opportunity to sign Freeman during the season and after winning the World Series in 2021. They allegedly offered Freeman $135 million over five years, thereby increasing Paul Goldschmidt’s deal (five years, $130 million) by $1 million each year.
It could make sense from an accounting standpoint. The Braves are opting for two prime years of Olson (at the cost of the traded guys) over the danger of Freeman’s career taking a turn for the worst, which has yet to be seen.
Freeman will soon become the fifth first baseman to receive a contract worth at least $23 million per year. Miguel Cabrera, Goldschmidt, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Chris Davis were the previous six. All were signed for a minimum of five years and until the age of 36.
What happened to the deals? This isn’t good. Only 12 qualifying seasons of ordinary or higher offence (OPS+ of at least 100) were returned by those players in 39 seasons under those contracts (not including the two years left for Cabrera and Goldschmidt). Three of the 12 seasons came from Goldschmidt in his three years with St. Louis. Because of their overall lack of athleticism, first basemen have long legacies.
In rebuilding mode, Oakland did well to focus on youthful talent in the centre of the field, but Atlanta did not pay a steep price for Olson. Cristian Pache, an outfielder, is a Gold Glove-caliber centre fielder who can bat or not hit. Shea Langeliers, a catcher, is only 24 years old and has played in only 151 professional games (in part because of COVID, which cancelled the 2020 minor-league season; trading prospects of the COVID generation is a case study in the making). Ryan Cusack and Joey Estes, two young pitchers, have the type of excellent fastballs that the A’s need.
Olson, who grew up in Georgia and has been a team leader since the minors, has tremendous power, is a great defender, and has been a team leader since the minors. Fans of the Atlanta Braves will be pleased with Olson’s performance.
But here’s when Freeman will be missed: when a runner is on second or third base and Freeman isn’t there to bring him in. Some question how Freeman’s odd hitting stroke will hold up as he gets older. Freeman, on the other hand, has such superb hands and a swift route to the ball that his swing, despite its lack of elegance, is built to last.
Olson is a touch worse in the big areas than he is in the rest of the game. Freeman improves with time. When it comes to deciding games, he is a magician. He’s one of the top five batters I’d want at the plate in a pinch. When the shift is outlawed in 2023, I anticipate him to be even better. When it comes to matching games, who wins the battle? It’s not even close:
The impact of analytics on the game and player worth was a major source of contention during the most recent CBA discussions. Every club is bound by the ageing curve, which explains why plate appearances by players 31 and older have decreased by 22% in the last five years. Freeman may have won an MVP and a World Series with the team that chose him in the second round in 2007, but he’s still a 32-year-old first baseman with a career cliff approaching if the actuarial charts are to be believed.