Freddie Freeman sent Braves country into a frenzy when he said he wanted to move to third base.
The Braves first baseman solidified himself as an elite player at first, but to keep Matt Adams’ bat in the lineup, he suggested moving to the hot corner.
That has us thinking (as it always does): Is Freeman the best first baseman in Atlanta Braves history?
There’s plenty of competition.
After coming from the A’s via rule 5 draft in 1968, Darrell Evans manned first for nine seasons in Atlanta, hitting .246 with 131 homers and 434 RBI. His best season was a 41-homer, 104-RBI campaign in 1973.
Like Freeman apparently will, Evans played both corners. He left Atlanta in 1979 before returning in his farewell season of 1989.
Chris Chambliss was solid, spending the last seven years of his career in Atlanta after winning two championships in New York. He finished 23rd in MVP voting in 1982 (teammate Dale Murphy won the award). He hit .272 across those seven seasons. Unspectacular, but reliable.
Orlando Cepeda played first for four seasons. Acquired in the Joe Torre trade with St. Louis, Cepeda, a Hall of Famer, excelled in Atlanta. In 1970, he hit .305 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs. But his short tenure works against him here.
Sid Bream will forever be a fan favorite. He hit .258 with 30 homers in three seasons for Atlanta. Bream scored the winning run that sent the Braves to the 1992 World Series. But his struggles in 1993 prompted the Braves to acquire Fred McGriff.
Speaking of McGriff, he may be the most formidable challenger to Freeman. Atlanta sent Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves to San Diego to add McGriff, who went on to hit .296 with the Braves. He placed eighth in MVP voting in 1994. Most importantly, he’s the first baseman who won a championship for the Atlanta Braves. McGriff homered twice in the 1995 World Series.
McGriff led Atlanta back to the fall classic the following season, collecting a career-high 107 RBIs. He started to slow down in 1997, and the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays took him out of Atlanta.
If not McGriff, Andres Galarraga may be the best first baseman prior to Freeman. While he only played two seasons for the Braves, both were monstrous campaigns. He hammered 44 homers and 121 RBIs in his first season. The ‘Big Cat’ missed the next year fighting lymphoma, then returned in 2000 to play in the All-Star Game, hosted by Atlanta. He won Comeback Player of the Year, but the he and the Braves couldn’t come to terms on an extension, and Galarraga departed for the Texas Rangers.
Enter Adam LaRoche, who was drafted in 2000 and debuted in 2004. He played for the Braves until 2006, then returned for half a season in 2009. LaRoche hit .281 in a Braves uniform, including his breakout 2006 season, when he hit .285 with 32 homers and 90 RBIs. Atlanta sold high on LaRoche following that season, shipping him to Pittsburgh for reliever Mike Gonzalez and prospect Brent Lillibridge.
Mark Teixeira was acquired from the Rangers for a prospect haul in 2007, two weeks after he rejected Texas’ extension offer. Teixeira hit .295 with 37 homers and 134 RBIs in his short Atlanta stint. The Braves, realizing they too couldn’t meet Teixeira’s financial demands, traded him to the Angels at the 2008 deadline.
While the Braves have had excellent first basemen, many were short-lived; Freeman won’t be. He debuted in 2010, making this his seventh season for the Braves. He’s signed for four more, which would make him the longest standing man on this list.
Evans is the only one who’s topped Freeman’s longevity, but Freeman’s already topped all Evans’ production. He’s hit .290 over his career, adding 152 homers and 540 RBI. That ranks him 13th in team history for homers, and 21st in RBI.
McGriff has the upper-hand in the most important area: winning. His four and-a-half seasons came during the Braves’ golden age. He was a centerpiece of pennant-winning offenses and contributed to Atlanta’s lone championship. Freeman, as successful a career as it’s been so far, can’t say that. At least not yet.
If Freeman transitioned to third permanently – as unlikely as that may be – he may still go down as the best first baseman in Atlanta history. Either way, it looks as though he’ll have at least four more years to continue ascending the team rankings.