Freeman is making $22 million this season. That doesn’t put him among MLB’s 20 highest-paid players. Freeman has said he wants to be a Brave for life, but how far can a hometown discount go? (Also up for discussion, although the answer is surely unknowable: Has the uncertainty over his future affected Freeman’s performance? He told the AJC at the All-Star game: “I wish something had been done.”)
In November 2019, Anthopoulos signed catcher Travis d’Arnaud for two years at $8 million each. In what passed for the 2020 season, d’Arnaud batted cleanup and won a Silver Slugger award. The follow-up has been less fulfilling. He hurt his thumb in May. He’s set to return in August. His batting average has dipped 101 percentage points year over year. He’s 32. He’ll become a free agent in November.
There’s no arguing with facts: In Anthopoulos’ first three years, his Braves finished first, first and first. Another fact: Good young teams tend to grow into good older teams, which means they keep winning but cost more. The 2019 contract extensions of Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies – totaling an aggregate $135 million over 15 seasons – bought much wiggle room. (In February, Fernando Tatis of San Diego signed a 14-year deal for $340 million.) Still, the Braves knew other contracts would be less team-friendly.
As we speak, the Braves cannot be sure they’ll have Freeman, d’Arnaud, Morton or Smyly on opening day 2022. Ozuna’s status is uncertain. Dansby Swanson is set to become a free agent after next season. Max Fried is arbitration-eligible. So is Chris Martin, who’s 35. Mike Soroka has worked 13-2/3 big-league innings since October 2019. There’s still young talent here: Austin Riley, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, Kyle Wright, Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers. Lest we forget: Albies is 24, Acuna 23. This isn’t an organization apt to implode anytime soon.
The reason Anthopolous didn’t pay $90-some million to keep Donaldson was because, at 34, he was a good player but a bad investment. The reason for the annual parade of one-year deals is that, even with a worst-case scenario (i.e., Hamels), those sunk costs don’t linger. That said, this administration hasn’t faced an issue like Freeman. There’s no way the Braves can lose him. If memory serves, we once said the same of Tom Glavine, who wound up pitching for – ugh – the Mets.