What follows is, I hope, exactly what the headline promises – random thoughts on a not-random Brave. Not a lengthy profile or suchlike. Just a bit of an MB riff.
Freddie Freeman was the ride-along, the guy in the sidecar. He was Jason Heyward’s minor-league roommate, and he arrived in the majors five months after Heyward hoisted his famous opening-day home run in 2010. Freeman’s first big-league homer wasn’t nearly as emphatic, though it did catch your eye: He launched it on Sept. 21, 2010, off Roy Halladay, who would win the Cy Young that year and entered the Hall of Fame last month. It was crushed.
Heyward was baseball’s No. 1 prospect; Freeman peaked at No. 17. He became the Braves’ starting first baseman in 2011 and, apart from a weird stint at third base in 2017 to accommodate Matt Adams, hasn’t budged. Heyward was dealt to St. Louis in November 2014 at the onset of the Braves’ rebuild. Other big names – Gattis, Simmons, Kimbrel, both Uptons – would follow, but John Coppolella, open to just about anything, famously said: “I’d rather cut off my right arm than trade Freddie Freeman.”
Freeman and Heyward have the same career WARs – 36.5 – but the latter has, as we know, waxed and waned. Freeman established a solid baseline and then, beginning with the middle of the 2016 season, obliterated it. He and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer happened on the odd tack of having Freeman simply try to hit ground balls to shortstop in batting practice, the better to keep his head down. Freeman’s OPS over the past 3-2/3 seasons -- .968, .989, .892 and .959. His batting averages -- .302, .307, .309 and .305.
Give Frank Wren, the general manager under whom Freeman developed, much credit. In February 2014, the Braves signed Freeman to a $135 million extension over eight seasons. Heyward was given an extension only through the 2015 season, in part because the Braves knew he was anxious to test the free-agent market but also because they believed that Freeman was the better long-term bet. Heyward’s swing had holes in it; Freeman’s did not.
Since Heyward signed with the Cubs for $184 million in December 2015, his aggregate WAR is 6.7. Freeman’s WAR over that span is 20.5. The guy who arrived in a sidecar? He’s driving the bus.