11:08 pm: The Dodgers and Freeman are in agreement on a six-year, $ 162MM pact, report Kiley McDaniel and Jeff Passan of ESPN (Twitter link).
10:23 pm: If finalized, it’s expected to be a six-year deal in the $ 160MM range, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (on Twitter).
10:17 pm: Morosi now relays that the deal may exceed $ 150MM.
10:09 pm: The parties are “deep in talks” on a deal that would guarantee around $ 150MM, Morosi adds.
10:03 pm: The Dodgers and Freddie Freeman are making progress on a contract, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter link). Los Angeles has seemingly been regarded as the favorite to land the 2020 NL MVP in recent days with the Braves having stepped out of the race.
Were a deal to get across the finish line, Freeman would only add to an already loaded Dodgers lineup. Los Angeles finished tied for third as a team in wRC + last season (excluding pitchers), with their collective .251 / .339 / .446 mark checking in 13 percentage points above the league average offense. Only the Astros and Giants fared better, while LA was tied with the Blue Jays. They’ve lost Corey Seager to free agency this winter, but Freeman would step right into his void as a left-handed, middle-of-the-order bat for manager Dave Roberts.
One could argue Freeman’s even an offensive upgrade over Seager, who himself is one of the best hitters in the game. Freeman has been consistently excellent bat, not having posted a wRC + lower than 132 in any season since 2013. That run has earned him five All-Star nods, three Silver Slugger Awards and six top ten finished in NL MVP balloting.
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 Juan Soto fared better by measure of wRC +, and Freeman earned a resounding victory in that year’s Senior Circuit MVP balloting. It was never realistic to expect him to repeat that kind of otherworldly performance over a full schedule, but Freeman returned to his metronomically consistent ways in 2021.
Over the course of the season, he appeared in 159 games and tallied 695 plate appearances of .300 / .393 / .503 hitting. Freeman popped 31 homers, drew walks at a robust 12.2% clip and only struck out in 15.4% of his trips. He began the year with a relatively pedestrian start by his lofty standards, but he got scorching hot from June onwards. Over the season’s final four months, he raked at a .329 / .404 / 520 clip. That production helped carry the Braves to their fourth straight division title, and Freeman picked up where he left off when the lights were the brightest. He posted an OPS of .996 or better in all three playoff rounds, helping Atlanta to their first World Series title since 1995.
Coming off that championship, many expected Atlanta would try to strike quickly to ink the career-long Brave to another deal. Freeman and the club had already lined up on an extension once, a February 2014 eight-year pact that guaranteed him $ 135MM and delayed his first trip to the open market by five years. The Braves maintained they interest in keeping Freeman in the fold, but the first baseman’s desire for a sixth guaranteed season quickly became a stumbling block.
Atlanta, which had made Freeman a qualifying offer at the start of the offseason, reportedly put forth a five-year proposal in the $ 135MM range. It’s believed they eventually nudged the guarantee around $ 140MM, but the organization seemed opposed to putting a sixth year on the table. Freeman turned 32 years old in September, and Braves’ brass apparently had real reservations about guaranteeing him a notable salary through his age-37 campaign.
Throughout the lockout, industry chatter picked up that Freeman and the Braves might be heading their separate ways. That became all but official when Atlanta struck a deal to acquire A’s star Matt Olson Monday afternoon, signed him to a $ 168MM extension. Freeman penned a farewell to his former teammates and the Atlanta fanbase 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 through his age-35 season. There’s real risk in committing to any player into his late 30’s, and that’s particularly true given that Freeman needs to continue to hit at a very high level to be an elite player. He’s a solid defensive first baseman but unlikely to be a Perennial Gold Glove winner into his mid-30’s.
Recent six-plus year contracts for free agents at the position haven’t been particularly fruitful. Each of the past four deals of six-plus years for first basemen – the Padres’ eight-year Eric Hosmer agreement, the Orioles’ bringing back Chris Davis on a seven-year pact, Prince Fielder’s nine-year contract with the Tigers and the Angels’ ten-year investment in Albert Pujols – turned out to be missteps for the club.
Of course, that’s not to say Freeman’s deal with Los Angeles will end the same way. It’s shorter than those other precedents, for one, and Freeman has a much more consistent track record than either Hosmer or Davis did at the time they signed their deals. There’s essentially nothing to nitpick in his offensive profile. Freeman does not chase many pitches, and he makes plenty of contact on pitches both inside and outside the strike zone. He posts high-end exit velocities and hard contact rates annually. As is the case with most left-handed hitters, he’s better against right-handed pitching. Yet Freeman’s career .266 / .348 / .436 mark against southpaws demonstrates he’s more than capable of holding his own without the platoon advantage.
Even after the Braves dropped out of the running, a few teams remained involved in the running for his services. The Red Sox and Padres were superficially tied to Freeman in recent days, but it seems the surprising Rays may have proven one of the Dodgers’ strongest challengers in the end. Juan Toribio of MLB.com tweets made a “strong push” throughout the process, but LA’s willingness to acquirece on the sixth guaranteed year proved a deal-breaker in the end.
It’s a return to Southern California for Freeman, an Orange County native. In addition to the financial and geographical appeal, he’ll step into a lineup that’s among the best in recent memory. It’s conceivable the Dodgers will roll out an Opening Day lineup consisting of Freeman, Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Will Smith, Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock. Betts, Freeman and Bellinger are each former league MVP’s. Eight of those nine players have garnered at least one All-Star selection; the one player who has not yet gone to the Midsummer Classic, Smith, is among the top handful of catchers in MLB.
The Dodgers have assembled a similarly star-studded pitching staff, and the construction of this kind of roster required a sizable investment from ownership. Los Angeles blew past all three luxury tax tiers last season, incurring nearly $ 33MM in fees. They’re in line for another huge expenditure this season.
The exact financial structure of Freeman’s deal is not yet known, but contracts’ average annual values are used for luxury tax purposes anyhow. Adding $ 27MM to that mark pushes the 2022 CBT tab to the north of $ 277MM, in the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. Because they exceeded the CBT last season, the Dodgers will be subject to escalating fees as a second-time payor. They’ll be taxed at a 30% rate for every dollar spent between $ 230MM and $ 250MM, a 42% clip on overages between $ 250MM and $ 270MM, a 75% rate on overages between $ 270MM and $ 290MM and a 90% tax on all overages north of $ 290MM.
In addition to the financial cost, the Dodgers will take on some non-monetary penalties for signing a player who had rejected a qualifying offer. Because they paid the luxury tax last year, they’ll lose their second-highest and fifth-highest picks in the upcoming draft and be stripped of $ 1MM in international signing bonus space. The Braves, as a team that neither received revenue sharing nor paid the luxury tax, will receive a compensatory pick after Competitive Balance Round B in the upcoming draft. Those selections typically fall in the 70-75 overall range.
More to come.