Asking again: Is there any way Freddie Freeman leaves the Braves?

November 5, 2021 Atlanta - Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman waves to fans during Truist Park Ceremony celebrating the Atlanta Braves' World Series win on Friday, November 5, 2021. Atlanta is partying on Friday like itÕs 1995, the last time the Atlanta Braves were World Series champions. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is offering live updates from the Braves parade route in downtown Atlanta, Cobb County and inside Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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November 5, 2021 Atlanta - Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman waves to fans during Truist Park Ceremony celebrating the Atlanta Braves' World Series win on Friday, November 5, 2021. Atlanta is partying on Friday like itÕs 1995, the last time the Atlanta Braves were World Series champions. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is offering live updates from the Braves parade route in downtown Atlanta, Cobb County and inside Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

This should be easy. Freddie Freeman wants to remain an Atlanta Brave. (“I think everybody in this room knows what I want,” he told the media during the World Series.) The Braves want that, too. So why is he still a free agent?

We hear the term so often we’ve grown numb to its meaning, but a “free” agent can do as he pleases. He’s under contract to no team. He can sign with somebody in the next five minutes. He can sign with nobody until we’re on the far side of Valentine’s Day. He has earned that right.

Freeman has been a Braves employee since 2007. When he agreed to an eight-year extension paying $135 million in February 2014 – this was three general managers ago – he signed away his right to become a free agent until November 2021. That’s exactly how long it took Freeman to lead the Braves to a world championship, which led to the moment in the daylong parade when Dansby Swanson took the stage at Truist Park and said, “This might get me in trouble, but re-sign Freddie.”

This got Swanson in no trouble. The Braves, as noted, WANT to re-sign Freeman. He’s the cornerstone of the best baseball team in the world. (Still sounds weird. Weird but good.) As October bled into November, consensus among media folks held that there was a 95 percent chance that Freeman would go nowhere. But here we return to that four-letter word, which constitute the first four letters of this great player’s surname.

Freddie Freeman is free, man.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that Freeman rejected an offer of $135M over five years, though it’s unclear when that offer was tendered. You can understand why he said no. The average annual value on that contract would be $27M, which wouldn’t make Freeman – coming off an MVP season in 2020 and now a world championship – among the top 10 earners in his sport. Bryce Harper, whom Forbes identified as baseball’s 10th-highest-paid player, made $31M in 2021.

Alex Anthopoulos has said little about Freeman except that he wants to keep him. The same general manager wanted to keep Josh Donaldson after the 2019 season. He got an offer that Anthopoulos chose not to match. Donaldson signed a contract with Minnesota that’s worth, counting a mutual option in Year 5, at least $92M. The money wasn’t what gave the Braves pause. The years did.

Donaldson, then 33, will make $8 million in 2024, when he’ll be 38. That’s if the Twins buy him out. If they don’t, he’ll make $16M. The Braves might have been willing to do a four-year deal. The fifth year was where they drew the line. (Laugh all you want about “financial flexibility,” but where would the 2021 Braves have been without the resources to buy four outfielders in July?)

Freeman is 32. At the end of a six-year deal, which Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports Freeman wants, he’d be 38. As consistently excellent as he has been, there’s little chance he’ll be quite so good in 2027. That doesn’t mean some team won’t offer six years. Some team, perhaps the same team, might offer $200M. The Braves could end up doing both. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, who’s skilled at such estimates, believes he’ll re-up here for $180M over six.

Freeman is a first baseman. Over the past two decades, the worst non-pitching contracts have gone to first basemen – from Ryan Howard to Albert Pujols to Miguel Cabrera. Each deal involving an MVP-caliber player became a case study in what not to do. In 2019, Paul Goldschmidt signed for $130M over five years. Halfway through the deal’s duration, the Cardinals had reason to rue their outlay. Goldschmidt was great over the second half, allaying some fears.

In Freeman’s favor: The universal DH is almost at hand. If, five years on, he’s not as spry afield, he could still swing a bat four times a day without having to find an American League home.

A free agent doesn’t know his market value until he becomes a free agent. Sometimes it’s less than he expected. Every now and then, it’s more. Donaldson wound up getting one that proved too rich for the baseball-playing arm of Liberty Media. That could happen again, though I doubt it. The Bringer of Rain was a Brave for one year. Freeman has been a Brave all his adult life.

In 2002, this correspondent believed the only way that a certain Hall of Fame lefty would leave was if he got mad. Next thing you knew, the lefty was no longer a Brave. It’s hard to believe Anthopoulos would do anything to make Freeman storm off in a huff, but the scary thing about free agents is that you never know.

Yes, it’s impossible to imagine Freddie wearing another team’s uniform. Then you recall your first sighting, and the nausea it induced, of Tom Glavine as a Met.

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