Yes, it’s a surprise that franchise face Freddie Freeman isn’t yet back on a contract that essentially ensures he retires with the Braves. First base could either be solidified for years or an enormous question mark soon. If the Braves re-sign Freeman, it will be a multiyear commitment. If they don’t, about everything is on the table.
A’s slugger Matt Olson, an Atlanta native, has already been linked with the Braves as a Freeman replacement. Olson is a free agent in 2024, so even he wouldn’t be a long-term solution without an extension. The free agency class beyond Freeman is just Anthony Rizzo and journeymen.
The easiest route here is to re-sign Freeman, but everyone has said that for over a year. The answer should come not long after the lockout ends.
If Ozzie Albies was the lone young star on a team, perhaps he’d generate more attention. One could argue he’s been underrated in his early career despite two All-Star nods and a championship. Albies hit .259/.310/.488 with 30 homers, 40 doubles and 106 RBIs last season. He’s not only prolific with the bat but a flashy defender and thrilling baserunner.
Albies, who turned 25 last month, is on a seven-year, $35 million contract. The Braves have two team options, both valued at $7 million, for 2026 and 2027. Albies is already a star and signed to an extremely team-friendly deal. It’ll be a long time until second base is a void for the Braves again.
Speaking of budding stars in the infield, Austin Riley burst into prominence in 2021. He provided MVP-level production, emerging into a more complete offensive player than expected. He also showed real defensive improvement. Riley, 24, is among the game’s best third basemen. He’s under team control through 2025, though he’s a logical extension candidate in the next couple years. He’ll man third base at Truist Park for the foreseeable future.
There’s some uncertainty at shortstop, where Dansby Swanson is slated for free agency following the upcoming season. Swanson showed significant power growth in 2021, posting career bests in homers (27), doubles (33) and RBIs (88). After playing each game of the 60-contest slate in 2020, he played in 160 games last season. That’s important considering the injuries that spoiled his earlier career.
Swanson turns 28 this week. He’s a defensive savant, good athlete and respected clubhouse presence. Even if he doesn’t take another leap forward, he’s a valuable major-league regular. One could easily justify an extension or waiting for both the player and team. Re-signing Swanson, an Atlanta-area native, feels like the likeliest outcome.
The Braves have one of the best catching situations in baseball. Veteran Travis d’Arnaud is back on a two-year deal. The experienced Manny Pina was signed on a two-year contract with a team option.
The future looks pretty good, too. Shea Langeliers is nearing his major league debut. Langeliers is a superb catching prospect, a phenomenal defender who’s made strides offensively. The Braves expect Langeliers to be a foundational player. The franchise also has William Contreras, who’s already experienced the majors and has promising offensive talent. He’d be an appealing trade asset, should the team go that direction.
Music to Braves fans’ ears: Ronald Acuna is signed through 2026 with two club options for 2027 and 2028, both valued at $17 million per year. Like Albies, Acuna’s contract is a bargain. It’d be an upset if Acuna didn’t win an MVP before his deal expires. The rest of the outfield is unset long term, but it isn’t for a lack of options.
Marcell Ozuna is signed for another three seasons. Unless the Braves find a way to trade him, he’ll be a left field and designated hitter option. The team tendered slugger Adam Duvall, a versatile defender with pop who’s loved by teammates. Guillermo Heredia is also back as experienced depth.
Prospect-wise, Michael Harris is the Braves’ top youngster and should soon be a fixture in the Braves’ outfield. Cristian Pache simply hasn’t done enough offensively to cement himself in the team’s plans, but his defense remains exceptional. Once-touted prospect Drew Waters has dropped down in rankings over the last two years.
The July acquisitions — Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler — who helped the Braves win the World Series are free agents. The Braves could retain one or more of the group, though Ozuna’s return changed the picture. They might also pursue a long-term contributor — such as Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds, in whom they’ve held past interest — but they have plenty of options that won’t require a substantial financial and/or prospect commitment.
Max Fried is under team control through 2024. He’s another extension candidate. Ian Anderson, 23, isn’t a free agent until 2027. Mike Soroka is also under club control through 2024. After a series of injuries, Soroka’s future is unclear. But he’s an immense talent and still just 24.
Charlie Morton returns to anchor the Braves’ rotation for another year. Among the immediate depth options: Huascar Ynoa, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller, Spencer Strider and Kyle Wright. Each is under team control for multiple seasons.
It’d make sense for the Braves to add another veteran here. They could also acquire a controllable starter to solidify the rotation moving forward. Nonetheless, Morton, Fried and Anderson is an excellent start, and having the latter two for future years is a great place to be – even better if Soroka comes back strong.
Relief groups are everchanging and volatile, so any long-term projections here are a bit ambitious. But the Braves seemingly have a strong immediate future with the bullpen. Closer Will Smith is signed through this season with a $13 team option for 2023. Key lefties A.J. Minter (2024) and Tyler Matzek (2025) are under team control for multiple seasons. Newcomer Kirby Yates is signed for two years with a third-year team option. It wouldn’t surprise if the Braves signed another veteran, too.
Luke Jackson is a free agent following the season. We’ll see if he has a campaign comparable to his sensational 2021. The team has a plethora of intriguing minor-league relievers who will get opportunities. Overall, the Braves are in good shape here, returning the nucleus of an outstanding unit that helped engineer the team’s title run.