The Atlanta Braves and Freddie Freeman

The Atlanta Braves have been doing work since John Hart took over as GM a little over a year ago. They have traded away practically every semblance of the team they were under the Frank Wren years. The old Braves Way is gone and the new Braves Rebuild is here.

That’s why it is so peculiar that they have chosen Freddie Freeman to be the lone survivor of the old system.

Justin Upton. Craig Kimbrel. Jason Heyward. Alex Wood. Andrelton Simmons. Shelby Miller.

All of the above names have been shipped off to other teams, most for some very nice rewards. They all have the same thing in common with Freddie Freeman: they are young, and most are entering their prime.

I understand that baseball is a business and both Upton and Heyward were heading for astronomical paydays, and by 2018 I am sure Kimbrel will be the highest paid reliever to ever play the game. But let’s not forget Freeman’s contract.

Sure, this season he makes a very affordable $12-million, but starting next season, the year that the Braves are building for with the new and improved SunTrust Park, Freddie becomes a $20-million man.

Freeman is extremely popular in Atlanta, but so was Kimbrel and Simmons. The backlash from trading both of those two was horrific and both — at least in today’s financial standards of the salary cap free MLB — were quite affordable. What they got in return — at least from the Braves standpoint — was too juicy to turn down.

That’s why I don’t understand why Freeman is the Brave in which they have decided to build their future.

HUG LIFE

HUG LIFE: I'll Miss you Jey Hey. (Photo Cred: Curtis Compton/ AJC)
I’ll Miss you Jey Hey. (Photo Cred: Curtis Compton/ AJC)
images (1)
I’ll miss you J-Up (Photo Cred: Curtis Compton/AJC)
Sorry, Dan-O, I won't miss you, but everybody gets a hug. (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)
Sorry, Dan-O, I won’t miss you, but everybody gets a hug. (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)

Like I said, everyone loves Hug Life. Everyone loves Freddie, but when push comes to shove, he was seemingly the least likely candidate to hold on to his job. Maybe they couldn’t move him because his salary will be touching $22-million very soon, but it seemed like Freddie was a key piece to get off the books.

Jose Abreu is entering his third season. He has had two consecutive seasons better than Freeman has ever had at half the annual salary. Or even better, look at this:

  • .255/.357/.548, 31 home runs, 79 RBI in 111 games
  • .276/.370/.471, 18 home runs, 66 RBI in 118 games

The top one is Mark Teixeira and the bottom is Freddie. They both suffered the same injury to their wrist. Many feel Tex is done, most feel Freddie is entering his prime. But Freddie has never hit more than 23 home runs at a position that is offensive driven. Tex continues to do so in his decline.

Think about it. Names like Chris Carter, Chris Davis, and Edwin Encarnacion continue to have jobs because they rake at a position that is usually the big bat in the lineup. Aside from last year — when Freeman led an anemic Braves offense with a whopping 18 home runs, Freeman has never been the guy that has led the Braves in the power department. Heck, the year he hit his career high 23 home runs, Dan Uggla blasted 22 while not even hitting his own weight.

Freeman has played one full season and that was his age-24 2014 year. His numbers? .288/.386/.461, 18 home runs, 78 RBI. His WAR — for all of the stat patrol that want to call me out — was his lowest it has been over the past four years.

Here, let’s take a look at these numbers, because sometimes this is a player that Freeman reminds me of:

AGE-24 SEASON: .289/.333/.434, 13 home runs, 90 RBI in 161 games

Who do you think that player was? Give up? James Loney.

I am not bashing Freeman, I think he is very talented. I think he is a great guy with a beaming personality that this lineup deprived of stars needs. And, yes, I think his potential is way higher than Loney’s ever was, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t plateaued and simply is who he is at this point.

And that’ precisely why I don’t understand why Freeman was the piece they chose to hold on to and build the next era of Braves baseball. In my opinion, if a team is trading away all of its blue chip pieces to get younger and better for the future, the lone piece they hold onto would be their superstar, their Mike Trout. Freddie Freeman is very good, he is arguably a top ten first baseman (probably falls just outside of it) but a superstar he is not. He is entering his prime, this was they best time to get some nice pieces for him.

One thing for certain is that the Braves — despite having one of, if not the best farm system in baseball — have no first base depth. Another thing is that he is coming off a wrist injury, but they could have traded him away last season before the injury struck.

Instead they gave away Simmons, who we know brings value to any team he plays on because he is the best defensive shortstop in baseball. They let Heyward walk, who is arguably the best defensive right fielder in the game, because they understandably didn’t want to pay him what essentially comes out to about $3-million more than Freddie, and $3 mill is not a lot in today’s MLB. Say what you will about Heyward offensively, but over the past few seasons, his numbers aren’t that far off Freeman’s… but he also doesn’t bat in the heart of the order.

I can’t reiterate enough, I think Freeman is a quality MLB first baseman. I actually really like him as well. But if my team were rebuilding, with a guy like John Hart at the helms who has some how turned a barren farm system into one that has eight or nine of the Top 100 prospects in baseball, I would expect to see Freddie bring in some juicy future stars.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe no one is sold on Freddie as “the guy” at first base and they can’t find what they deem fair value for him. If he has a slow start to 2016,  you can’t be surprised to see him dumped at the trade deadline.

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