11:08 p.m.: The Dodgers and Freeman have agreed to a six-year, $162 million pact, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel and Jeff Passan report (Twitter link).
10:23 p.m.: If finalized, it is expected to be a six-year deal worth around $160 million, reports Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (on Twitter).
10:17 p.m.: Morosi now relay that the deal could top $150 million.
10:09 p.m.: The parties are ‘in full talks’ on a deal that would secure around $150 million, Morosi adds.
10:03 p.m.: The Dodgers and Freddie Freeman are progressing on a contract, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link). Los Angeles has apparently been seen as the favorite to clinch the 2020 NL MVP in recent days as the Braves have been taken out of contention.
Should a deal cross the finish line, Freeman would only add to an already loaded Dodgers lineup. Los Angeles tied for third as a team in wRC+ last season (excluding pitchers), with their collective mark of .251/.339/.446 checking 13 percentage points above the league’s average offense. Only the Astros and Giants fared better, while LA tied with the Blue Jays. They lost Corey Seager in free agency this winter, but Freeman would step straight into his void as a mid-range southpaw bat for manager Dave Roberts.
You could say that Freeman is even an offensive upgrade over Seager, who himself is one of the best hitters in the game. Freeman has always been a great stick, having not posted a wRC+ below 132 in no season since 2013. That run earned him five All-Star nominations, three Silver Slugger Awards and six top ten finishes in the NL MVP ballot.
Freeman has remained at the top of his game over the past few seasons. He obliterated opposing pitchers to the tune of a .341/.462/.640 line during the 60-game season in 2020. Among qualified hitters, only John Soto fared better in wRC+, and Freeman took a resounding victory in that year’s senior circuit MVP ballot. It’s never been realistic to expect him to repeat that kind of otherworldly performance on a full schedule, but Freeman has returned to his metronomically consistent ways in 2021.
During the season, he appeared in 159 games and had 695 plate appearances of .300/.393/.503 hits. Freeman homered 31, drew walks at a robust 12.2% clip, and struck out just 15.4% of his trips. He started the year off with a relatively pedestrian start by his high standards, but turned scorching from June. In the final four months of the season, he raked in a .329/.404/520 clip. That production helped the Braves win their fourth straight division title, and Freeman picked up where he left off when the lights were brightest. He posted an OPS of 0.996 or better in all three playoff rounds, helping Atlanta win its first World Series title since 1995.
Coming out of this championship, many expected Atlanta to try to strike fast to sign the career-long Brave to another deal. Freeman and the club had already lined up on a one-time extension, an eight-year pact from February 2014 that guaranteed him $135 million and delayed his first trip to the open market by five years. The Braves maintained their interest in keeping Freeman in the fold, but the first baseman’s desire for a guaranteed sixth season quickly became a stumbling block.
Atlanta, which made Freeman a qualifying offer early in the offseason, reportedly submitted a five-year proposal worth about $135 million. It’s believed they eventually pushed the guarantee around $140 million, but the organization seemed averse to putting a sixth year on the table. Freeman turned 32 in September, and Braves chiefs apparently had real reservations about guaranteeing him a notable salary throughout his campaign at 37.
Throughout the lockout, industry talks revealed that Freeman and the Braves could go their separate ways. It became almost official when Atlanta struck a deal to acquire the star from A Matt Olson Monday afternoon, signed him for a $168 million extension. Freeman wrote a farewell to his former teammates and the Atlanta fan base on Instagram this afternoon.
It’s not hard to see the Braves’ reasoning for letting Freeman walk. Olson is more than four years younger, so his extension only takes him to his 35-year season. There’s a real risk in committing to any player well into their late 30s, and that’s especially true given that Freeman has to keep hitting at a very high level to be a player. elite. He’s a solid defensive first baseman, but is unlikely to be a permanent Golden Glove winner in his mid-30s.
Recent contracts of more than six years for free agents in this position have not been particularly successful. Each of the last four over-six deals for first basemen – the Padres’ eight-year-olds Eric Hosmer okay, the return of the Orioles Chris Davis on a seven-year pact, Prince Fielder nine-year contract with the Tigers and the Angels’ ten-year investment in Albert Pujol – turned out to be missteps for the club.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Freeman’s deal with Los Angeles will end the same way. It’s shorter than those other precedents, for one thing, and Freeman has a much more consistent track record than Hosmer or Davis when they signed their deals. There’s essentially nothing to nitpick about his attacking profile. Freeman doesn’t chase a lot of pitches and he makes a lot of contacts on the pitches inside and outside the strike zone. It boasts top-end exit speeds and hard contact rates every year. As is the case with most left-handed hitters, he is better against the right-handed pitch. Still, Freeman’s career mark of .266/.348/.436 against southpaws demonstrates he’s more than capable of defending without the peloton advantage.
Even after the Braves pulled out of the running, a few teams remained involved in the running for his services. The Red Sox and Padres have been superficially linked with Freeman in recent days, but it looks like the surprising Rays have finally proven themselves to be one of the Dodgers’ strongest challengers. MLB.com’s Juan Toribio tweet made a “strong push” throughout the process, but LA’s willingness to accept the guaranteed sixth year proved a deciding factor in the end.
It’s a return to Southern California for Orange County native Freeman. In addition to the financial and geographical appeal, he will enter a formation among the best in recent memory. It’s conceivable that the Dodgers would deploy an opening day roster consisting of Freeman, Mookie Bets, Trea Turner, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Will Smith, Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock. Betts, Freeman and Bellinger are each former league MVPs. Eight of those nine players have earned at least one All-Star selection; the only player yet to make it to the Midsummer Classic, Smith, is among MLB’s top catchers.