Ranking the Top 10 Landing Spots for Freddie Freeman in MLB Free Agency
Freddie Freeman is the proud owner of a brand, spankin' new World Series ring. That alone would promise to make his upcoming offseason a good one.
Then there's also the fact that he's destined to sign a brand-new contract with a lot of zeros on it.
As for which team is most likely to do business with Freeman this winter, there's little question that all 30 clubs in Major League Baseball would love to have him. But if it's a question of how many are actually a good fit for the 2020 National League MVP, there are 10 that we can make a reasonable case for.
Let's break down Freeman's value and then count down his suitors from No. 10 to No. 1.
What Will Freeman Be Looking for in Free Agency?
Freeman was only 24 years old when Atlanta signed him to an eight-year, $135 million contract extension in 2014, and he was only recently established as a star, to boot.
Nevertheless, that deal proved to be a win for everyone.
Freeman averaged a .300/.394/.526 slash line and won two Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove for Atlanta during the life of the contract. As for what the man himself got out of it, the money was good and the aforementioned World Series ring isn't too shabby either.
Given that he's now 32 years old, it's doubtful that Freeman will find another eight-year deal on the open market even though more than one team will be bidding for his services. And yet, he might still come close to the guarantee of his first major pact with Atlanta.
In 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals broke the bank by signing fellow star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to a five-year, $130 million contract. Though Goldschmidt was a seasonal age younger at the time than Freeman is now, it still looks like a relevant precedent for the latter's free-agent value.
A contract in the $130 million range shouldn't be prohibitive for most teams in MLB, including some of the rebuilders around the league. Which is to say, it wouldn't be the biggest shock if the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles or Miami Marlins got involved in Freeman's market.
That said, we like the following 10 teams' chances more.
10. Milwaukee Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers may have won 95 games and the National League Central title in 2021. Yet by the end of the regular season, it was no secret that offense was a serious shortcoming for them.
In the words of general manager David Stearns: "We didn't score over the last 10 days in September particularly consistently, and we also didn't score particularly consistently in the NLDS. Those are the facts. I can't dispute those facts."
No kidding. The Brewers averaged only 3.5 runs over their last 13 games of the regular season, and then their four-game stay in the NLDS yielded only six runs.
Among the areas where Milwaukee's offense lagged behind was at first base, where it ranked 25th in the league with a .716 OPS. Needless to say, that's where Freeman would represent a monumental upgrade.
But can the Brewers afford him? They've never done a nine-figure deal in free agency, and they're already projected to spend $20 million more in 2022 than they did in 2021. If this isn't enough for an outright "no," it is enough to suggest that Freeman suiting up for Milwaukee is a long shot.
9. Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies were just fine at first base for most of 2021. Rhys Hoskins saw most of the action at the cold corner and put forth an .872 OPS and 27 home runs before a core injury ended his season in August.
But given that the Phillies had a below-average 95 OPS+ as a team in 2021, their offense could still stand to add a hitter with Freeman's credentials.
Plus, fitting him in wouldn't be impossible. With Andrew McCutchen and Odubel Herrera now out of the picture, there's an open spot in left field that Hoskins could fill in deference to Freeman. Failing that, Hoskins could slot in at designated hitter if when the position is made universal in 2022.
Money-wise, the Phillies' 2022 payroll is projected about $24 million below what they spent in 2021. If the next collective bargaining agreement also raises the luxury-tax threshold above $210 million, they'll have space for Freeman in that regard as well.
But even if the Phillies were to push for Freeman, the hard part could be convincing him that he could win another ring with them. Try as the Phillies might to break out of their postseason drought, it still extends back to 2011.
8. New York Mets
Similar to the Phillies, the New York Mets have themselves a pretty good incumbent at first base.
Most recently including the 37 that he hit in 2021, Pete Alonso leads everyone in baseball with 106 home runs since the start of the 2019 season. He also boosted his defensive reputation this season, posting five defensive runs saved.
Like with the Phillies, however, the universal DH would give the Mets space for both Freeman and Alonso. He would also account for the left-handed bat that the team stands to lose if Michael Conforto departs as a free agent, and doubly so if Robinson Cano is ticketed for a bench role upon his return from suspension in 2022.
As for the money, well, it might be more doable than a total non-concern. The Mets are projected only about $20 million short of what they spent for 2021 in 2022. What's more, their projected luxury-tax bill is actually a tad higher.
So in spite of owner Steve Cohen's bountiful wealth, the Mets may prioritize allocating their offseason budget toward actual needs like starting pitching over a luxury like Freeman. In the meantime, they first need to find someone to run a front office that was a bastion of buffoonery in 2021.
7. Los Angeles Angels
If Freeman is in the mood for a homecoming, the Los Angeles Angels might be all too happy to accommodate him.
Indeed, Freeman was an Angels fan growing up in Orange, California. He was even at Angel Stadium for part of the team's World Series run in 2002, telling Tyler Kepner of the New York Times in 2017: "That place was lighting up. The Rally Monkey was nuts back then. The ThunderStix, those things were so loud."
These days, the Angels are mired in a string of six straight losing seasons. But between Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh, they at least have a star core worthy of a contender.
With their 2022 payroll currently projected more than $50 million below what they spent in 2021, the Angels also have the funds for Freeman. It likewise helps that, while he primarily played first base this season, Walsh is also capable of playing right field.
But as much as general manager Perry Minasian—who formerly worked in Atlanta's front office—might like to sign Freeman, he's rightfully committed to seeking pitching upgrades first and foremost. That search might leave neither the time nor the extra dollars to also entice Freeman.
6. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays ran away with the MLB home run lead by blasting 262 long balls as they won 91 games this season. Of those, a league-high-tying 48 came from wunderkind first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
But while such things would seem to rule them out for Freeman, stranger signings have happened.
Even if the Blue Jays manage to retain fellow free agent Marcus Semien, who hit 45 homers in his own right in 2021, they could still covet the lefty-swinging Freeman as a balancer for their lineup. To wit, the 31 homers that he hit just by himself in 2021 were 11 more than the Blue Jays hit from the left side as a team.
At first base, Guerrero need not be an impediment to Toronto making a deal with Freeman. Though Guerrero arguably beat expectations on defense, he's nowhere near Freeman's level with the glove and could therefore slot into an everyday role at DH.
The $115 million that the Blue Jays have projected on their 2022 payroll is both less than they spent in 2021 and well short of the $160-plus million payrolls they carried in 2017 and 2018. So if they don't make a splash on Freeman, it might only be because they see much more pressing needs on their roster.
5. Boston Red Sox
It wasn't until the end of the 2021 season that the Boston Red Sox gained a semblance of reliability at first base, and even then they only ended up getting 0.1 rWAR from the position.
Though Bobby Dalbec caught fire with a 1.114 OPS over his last 40 games, he remained a liability on defense. The same was also true of Kyle Schwarber, who had never played first base before this season, after he took over at the cold corner.
With Schwarber now a free agent, the Red Sox have clear needs for a new first baseman and a left-handed hitting slugger. If J.D. Martinez also opts into free agency, adding power will become that much more of a priority.
But while all this makes Freeman an ideal fit for the Red Sox in theory, they would be justified if they pursued pitching upgrades more aggressively. Plus, it would be hard to blame them if they didn't want to block fast-rising prospect Triston Casas from an everyday role at his only viable defensive spot.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
Can't beat 'em, sign 'em?
Freeman wasn't the only problem the Los Angeles Dodgers encountered against Atlanta in the National League Championship Series, yet he was a big one. He went 6-for-21 with two homers in the series.
Of course, the Dodgers can still pencil Max Muncy into first base for next season. He's far from a slouch, as he's hit at least 35 home runs in three of the last four seasons.
But since Muncy can also play second and third base, the Dodgers could conceivably move him in deference to Freeman even if the National League doesn't get the DH in 2022. Which, again, is unlikely.
Know what else isn't a problem? The money. Even if the Dodgers don't want to sink another $282 million into their payroll like they did in 2021, they can and probably will invest a lot more than the $194 million they're presently slated to spend in 2022.
Yet with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw headed for free agency and Trevor Bauer's career possibly over, pitching must come first for the Dodgers this winter. Even if they do pivot to a position player, it would make more sense to sign a proper middle infielder (i.e., Marcus Semien) to account for Corey Seager's free agency.
3. San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants are only a couple of weeks removed from a 107-win season, yet the roster that made it happen has already been decimated.
The Giants said goodbye to a franchise legend and a key piece in their lineup when Buster Posey announced his retirement Thursday. The team's extensive list of free agents also includes fellow lineup stalwarts Brandon Belt and Kris Bryant.
Freeman is one of very few players in baseball who would actually be an upgrade over Belt at first base. Even if Belt actually posted a higher OPS (.988 to .951) across 2020 and 2021, Freeman maintained a considerable advantage in games played (219 to 148).
What's more, the Giants might have more financial flexibility than any team in the league. To wit, their 2022 payroll is projected about $100 million below what they spent in 2021.
In lieu of signing Freeman, however, the path of least resistance for the Giants might involve simply re-signing Belt. And since he's likely to be significantly cheaper than Freeman, doing so would leave more money that the Giants could put toward patching their other holes.
2. New York Yankees
Following back-to-back years of diminishing returns, it's only natural to anticipate the New York Yankees throwing a whole bunch of money at their problems this winter.
However, be warned that their payroll isn't in the best shape. They're indeed already projected to spend more in 2022 than they did in 2021. Their luxury-tax payroll is likewise projected north of $220 million. In tandem, such things might necessitate them to subtract from their payroll before they can add to it.
But if they eventually do find themselves in a position to do the latter, Freeman would fit them like a glove.
With Anthony Rizzo set for free agency, the Yankees' lineup has a hole in the shape of a left-handed-hitting first baseman. Freeman would obviously fill that, and he and Joey Gallo alone could immediately go on to best the 53 homers that the Yankees got from the left side of the plate this season.
What of Luke Voit? Well, suffice it to say he's expendable. Though he led the majors with 22 home runs in 2022, his proneness to injuries gives the Yankees a good excuse to non-tender him rather than pay him as much as $5.4 million in arbitration.
Is Atlanta an obvious choice for the top spot on this list? Well, yeah. But if it were up to Freeman alone, it would also be the only suitor out there for him.
As he said immediately following the conclusion of the World Series, according to The Athletic:
"Everyone knows where my heart is...the Atlanta Braves. I've been here since I was 17 years old; almost half my life I've been with this organization. I think everyone knows how my heart is. It means everything to put on that Braves uniform every day. Hopefully I can continue to do that."
To be sure, Freeman leaving Atlanta is only a possibility because the two sides couldn't hammer out another extension during the season. If anything, Atlanta should be thankful that that experience didn't hamper Freeman's enthusiasm for the organization.
Because Atlanta's payroll isn't due to decrease by much in 2022, making the money work now still won't be easy. But since winning the World Series comes with considerable financial rewards, it should at least be easier now than it was before.