Should the Blue Jays Pursue Freddie Freeman?

Major League Baseball may still be in the midst of a lockout, but behind the scenes, drama has continued to brew. On Thursday, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that “there is a growing belief that Freddie Freeman will land somewhere outside of Atlanta,” meaning that the veteran first baseman could still be an option for the Toronto Blue Jays.

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After winning the World Series last fall, the Atlanta Braves, whose general manager is Alex Anthopolous, reportedly offered Freeman a contract worth $135 million over five years, however, Freeman is reportedly looking for a six-year deal. It’s not hard to see why the Braves would have second thoughts about that long of a deal considering Freeman is currently 32, and historically, long-term deals for aging players don’t tend to work out.

If the ask from Freeman is for a six-year deal, it’s likely that someone will step up and offer him what he is asking for even if the average salary each season is slightly reduced. Whoever does sign Freeman will have to be okay with having him through the twilight of his career and will have to run the risk of him slowing down considerably by the end of the deal, but that could be worth the risk for his still high-level production in 2022.

Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves – Photo by Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images

Before the lockout, Freeman reportedly had talks with the Toronto Blue Jays and it’s likely that Ross Atkins would circle back when he allowed to do so when the lockout is over. If the Blue Jays do wish to sign Freeman, they are probably looking at a six-year deal worth in and around the range of $150 million. It’s worth keeping in mind that the Jays have significant dollars that they can spend, however, they need to keep in mind the massive contract that Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will command in the coming years.

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There would need to be a plan in place to ensure they can keep the nucleus of the roster intact, mainly their young talent, while bringing in an elite, albeit expensive piece in Freeman. If Atkins can confidently say that they can sign Freeman and their young players who are integral pieces to them competing for a World Series for the next 10 seasons, then he can move on to the next thing to consider; where will Freeman get his playing time and how does that affect the rest of the roster?

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Freeman’s first base position was occupied by none other than Guerrero in 2021, and considering his defensive game was much improved throughout the season, there might not be an instant desire to make him nothing more than a designated hitter. It would almost certainly be a rotation between the two with whoever isn’t playing first base being the designated hitter for the night. Now with the universal DH in play, there wouldn’t be games where they have to pick their poison and decide who to sit and who to play, the two could always be in the lineup.

The rotation could be highly beneficial to both players, however. Guerrero played 161 games in 2021, missing just one game all season long. In the shortened 2020 season, he played all of the Blue Jays’ 60 games. Manager Charlie Montoyo has shown that when Guerrero is available to him, he will be used. If they were to sign Freeman, it would allow Guerrero to DH more frequently and keep him fresher as the season rolls on, and for Freeman, it could allow him to prolong his career as he cuts down on wear and team from playing in the field every single night.

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For all of the positives, there are some drawbacks to consider. With the designated hitter spot all of a sudden soaked up by two guys who have a chance to lead the league in numerous statistical categories, the outfield competition would get all that much closer. When the season starts, the Blue Jays will have Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and George Springer in the outfield, and deciding who plays and who doesn’t could be a challenge for Montoyo.

Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays – Photo by Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images

Springer still tops the list of Blue Jays outfielders with both great fielding ability and a bat that can come alive and lead the lineup. Hernandez has emerged as one of the team’s best hitters and clubbed 32 home runs and 116 runs batted in in 2021, but in the field, he’s not always as reliable as you would hope. Then you get to Grichuk and Gurriel, two players who can play the field but have bats that go through their ups and downs. Perhaps Montoyo could play the hot hand and use the other as depth, but the competition between the two for playing time could bring the best out of them.

The Blue Jays would no longer need to put a struggling bat in the lineup for the sake of finding the ninth player on a given day, but if all four of your outfielders happen to be playing well, things could get interesting. That in itself isn’t a reason to not pressure Freeman, however, and if Atkins believes that to be true, he can proceed to the third and final thing to consider; how will this affect their ability to pursue quality players both in Free Agency and via trade.

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Atkins still has some work to do before the team is ready to hit the field including finding a starting pitcher to round out the back of the rotation. After losing Steven Matz and Robbie Ray in Free Agency to the St. Louis Cardinals and Seattle Mariners respectively, the Blue Jays signed Kevin Gausman and re-signed Jose Berrios, but if the season were to start right now, they would have one of Ross Stripling or Nate Pearson in the rotation in all likelihood.

It’s not just on the bump that the Jays are looking to improve, either. After losing Marcus Semien to the Texas Rangers, they have a hole to fill on the infield. If the team wanted to, they could try moving Guerrero back to third base, but that could be throwing away all of the progress he has made at his new position. If the search is in fact for a third baseman like it should be on paper, adding a guy like Matt Chapman via trade could be a priority.

Sep 4, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman (26) hits a home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the fifth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Adding a high-priced free agent into the same position as your best player comes with many issues, especially when you have other holes to fill. This final question that Atkins needs to ask himself is likely the hardest one to answer, would his club be better off with another pitcher, a quality third baseman, and some more depth players, or can you go cheaper on those positions and sign a player who could have an MVP calibre season.

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It’s not easy, but it is an absolutely critical decision. Forget the potential monetary issues that could come down the road, for the 2022 season alone, there are huge pros and cons to both sides that need to be thought about. The ideal situation is that they can find all of their needs under MLB’s competitive balance tax, but that just might not happen.

If you twisted my arm and demanded an answer from me today, I would say that signing Freeman would be a good move assuming the contract isn’t completely unreasonable. Then, you would likely have to spend some serious capital to bring in Chapman or Ketel Marte via trade, and that could include Alejandro Kirk. At that point, however, you would be in a tough spot to add too much more to your roster (according to Ben Nicholson-Smith who wrote that another $30 million player would put the Blue Jays close to the competitive balance tax) and would have to hope that one of Pearson or Stripling can be the team’s fifth starter.

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Considering signing Freeman is more than what meets the eye. It’s not as simple as signing a player who played for Team Canada at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and no, him being Canadian doesn’t make him the perfect fit for the Blue Jays. What makes him a good fit is what he is as a player, and that is a player who is elite in the field and with the bat. If there are no consequences that could derail the team’s future, as in losing Guerrero or Bichette, or being entirely incapable of signing high-profile free agents down the line, Freeman makes perfect sense for the Blue Jays when the lockout is finally over.

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