Freddie Freeman supports Braves front office's offseason strategy
KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Freddie Freeman served as the de facto player representative in the Atlanta Braves' executive offices this winter, admittedly pestering general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the front office on potential roster additions on a near-daily basis. The three-time All-Star and perennial MVP candidate has also seen the criticism for the organization's quiet $31 million offseason — signing Josh Donaldson, Brian McCann and Nick Markakis — and, as he arrived at spring camp, disagreed with the dissent.
“It makes sense," Freddie Freeman said of Atlanta's offseason strategy. "You’re not just going to spend money just to spend money because then we’ll be put into a situation two or three years from now where we won’t be able to sign someone who comes up in free agency then.”
Atlanta's offseason haul has been dwarfed by their National League East counterparts in terms of well-known names and financial commitments.
As Freeman arrives in camp, the Nationals, who finished second in the division last season, have spent more than $200 million in guaranteed money on roster upgrades including top free-agent pitcher Patrick Corbin, veteran starter Anibal Sanchez, catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Brian Dozier and reliever Trevor Rosenthal. The Phillies committed $73 million to Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson while also trading for star catcher J.T. Realmuto and All-Star shortstop Jean Segura. The Mets added Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson to the tune of approximately $200 million.
From Freeman's perspective, this flurry of activity underscores how the pressure is on the Braves' division rivals to make up ground.
“I feel like everybody’s questioning it because the NL East is crazy," Freeman said. "It’s gonna be a fight to the end with the group of guys we got in the NL East. A lot of people are just talking about everybody else and they forgot that we won 90 games and got better. They all did that to catch up to us.”
According to Baseball Prospectus’ contracts clearinghouse Cot’s Contracts, the Braves have committed to $114.9 million to the projected 2019 Opening Day roster — a possible decrease from last season’s $118.3 million bloated by dead money paid to Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir.
If the Braves do not make another major addition before Opening Day, they will enter the season with World Series aspirations sitting more than $90 million under the luxury-tax threshold — and with names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Kuechel still available with every major-league team already in camp, Freeman still says he understands the team's patient approach, particularly if it means setting aside assets for midseason maneuvers.
“There’s still a lot of people unsigned so you never know what’s going to happen. Alex is not one to be shy about going after someone at the deadline or even before that if we needed it," Freeman said. "He went after (Kevin) Gausman, and Gausman was huge for us at the end. Little things like that: You don’t want to just spend and all of a sudden you get to that point where this one move would get us over but we couldn’t do it because we don’t have any room.
"I like what he’s doing. I know fans don’t like it. But I think it’s good for what’s inside this culture. Once we get going and he realizes what we need, he’ll go get it if we need it. He’s not afraid to do that.”
Another aspect of Freeman's push for front-office patience is that no other NL East team is blessed with the depth of MLB-ready young pieces, stockpiled from the team's rebuilding days and now knocking on the door. Atlanta's clubhouse leader says the likes of young starters Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Luiz Gohara and Kyle Wright can help defend a division title. Top prospects Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller and Joey Wentz are in the same shoes those aforementioned arms were at this time last year. Austin Riley is one of baseball's best bats in the high minors. If the young pieces continue to develop, the Braves' upside is high.
(Owning one of baseball's best farm systems also means the Braves easily have more trade chips than any other team in the division.)
Freeman is also well aware of the predicament free-agent players are facing on the market.
"The last two years have been weird. It's slow. I think the players and the owners and the GMs and the front offices are just waiting each other out, and that's not great for baseball," Freeman said. " ... When you work that hard to get to free agency and it doesn't go the way you want it to go, it's tough.
"The fans deserve the best product. ... (The top available free agents) deserve what they should get because they're superstars in our game."
Atlanta's options are wide open and Opening Day is still over a month away. The team made multiple last-spring signings, including eventual NLDS Game 2 starter Anibal Sanchez, last season. The options are even better this time around. And with the free-agent market skewed in favor of teams and roster maneuvers pending around the both leagues, Anthopoulos & Co. have plenty of time.
There's risk in adding only one difference-making piece in a rapidly improving division, though, particularly without the expected increase in payroll. Still, while Freeman did mention that he'd certainly be in favor of signing someone like Kimbrel, who is in town golfing near the Braves' spring training complex and in contact with the star first baseman, he's buying into the plan.
“We just got so many dynamic guys that if you give into four-year, $60 million for someone and that guy doesn’t turn out and we had all these guys, and you bought (that other player) and you trade and then that trade doesn’t work out," Freeman said. "(Alex has) only been here a year and he’s still doing it, figuring things out. I feel like he’s done the right move. You go in, go get a middle-type of the order (bat) in Josh Donaldson, Kakes if you give him a few days off and he stays kinda like he was in the first half, B-Mac. And we traded for Gausman, (Darren) O’Day is healthy. So if you look at it and it’s like, ‘Well, we signed a reliever in O’Day and that’s $9 million this year.’
"I feel like we got so much better."