It seemed unthinkable when the Atlanta Braves offseason began that Freddie Freeman could depart in MLB free agency. When the lockout ends, though, the perennial All-Star first baseman seems increasingly likely to exit.
The latest MLB rumors paint a grim picture. Atlanta, the reigning World Series champions, were far apart in contract talks with Freeman before baseball shut down. After months without any communication, there is now a growing belief that Freeman signs elsewhere this spring.
It will leave a massive void in the Braves lineup and fans will rightfully be upset. However, there will be very little time for the organization to dwell on the departure. Once the lockout ends, Atlanta will only have a matter of weeks to potentially find another first baseman.
Let’s examine the best candidates the Atlanta Braves can explore to replace Freeman.
Matt Olson traded to Atlanta Braves
There is a path to the Braves upgrading over Freeman. While he is a five-time All-Star Game selection and won NL MVP in 2020, Atlanta is making the right decision only if they acquire one player. It is, of course, Oakland Athletics’ first baseman Matt Olson.
Comparing FanGraphs’ Wins ABove Replacement (5.0 to 4.5) and Baseball Reference’s OPS+ (153 to 133), Olson is a better player than Freeman. Not only that, he is also significantly younger (27 to 32). Most importantly from Atlanta’s perspective, he’ll save the organization more than $20 million over the next two seasons compared to a new contract for Freeman.
Acquiring him will come at a cost. While Oakland is willing to move him, it will want young talent from the Braves and top prospects. Even if it requires trading Cristian Pache and additional assets, it’s worth it. Olson grew up in Atlanta and bringing him in to replace Freeman would be a great move.
Signing Anthony Rizzo
There is a problem with making a trade once the offseason resumes. Opposing general managers will know the Braves are losing Freeman and desperate to find a viable replacement. It’s why Atlanta might explore the MLB free agents, taking a close look at Anthony Rizzo.
Turning 33 in August, Rizzo’s best days are certainly behind him. The former World Series champion does bring postseason experience, leadership and consistency, all qualities that the Braves loved about Freeman.
Rizzo slashed .248/.244/.440 this past season, scoring 73 runs and consistently working up pitch counts. While he’d be a significant downgrade compared to the Braves’ legend, he’d be far more affordable and Atlanta could keep its top prospects. At the very least, there wouldn’t be a liability at first base or in the lineup.
Acquire Trey Mancini from Baltimore Orioles
Trey Mancini might be among our favorite fallback plans for the Atlanta Braves. While he’s certainly not on Olson’s tier in terms of talent, the Orioles’ slugger is an excellent short-term solution at first base for the defending champs. After missing the entire 2020 season following a cancer diagnosis, he roared back in 2021.
- Trey Mancini stats (2021): .255/.326/.432, 21 home runs, 71 RBI
Mancini was even better before defeating cancer. He delivered a career-best season in 2019, posting a .291/.364/.535 slash line with 35 home runs, 106 runs scored and a 3.5 fWAR. In a great lineup playing for one of the best teams in the National League, it could be the perfect environment for Mancini to return to All-Star form. Best of all, a trade wouldn’t require Atlanta trading its elite prospects because Mancini is a one-year rental.
Swing a trade for Luke Voit
If Freeman leaves the Braves, there’s a strong chance he signs a deal with the New York Yankees. Operating under the assumption that happens, Luke Voit immediately becomes an intriguing candidate for the Braves to target.
One huge positive for Voit, he is under team control through 2023 thanks to arbitration. While he is already 31 and durability is an issue, we’ve seen him thrive when healthy. Across 642 at-bats from 2019-’20, Voit hit 43 home runs with 113 RBI and a 135 OPS+. He’s not a Gold Glove defender at first base, but that isn’t the highest priority. If Voit is traded to the Atlanta Braves, it’s safe to count on him for 20-25 homers, 70-plus RBIs and productive at-bats for the next two seasons.