March 12, 2016

Is Freeman Trade Bait?

Based on a video published on ESPN.com, from Buster Olney, about the Braves, it seems there is industry buzz, from the scouts Olney talked to, that the Braves will shop or at least listen on Freddie Freeman at some point this season.  ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote an entire article about Freeman staying.  The question of whether Freeman is here for the long haul is sure to crop up often throughout this season.  Fans had doubts that the Braves would move Craig Kimbrel or Andrelton Simmons or Shelby Miller.  But this front office clearly isn’t shy about trading young, popular players if they think such moves will help the franchise get back to where it was from 1991-2005.

The Braves are playing it well if they are wanting to move Freeman.  Maybe it doesn’t matter what they say publicly, in terms of what Freeman might bring back to the Braves in a trade, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that GM John Coppolella is so publicly adamant about not wanting to move him.  It sends the signal that the Braves value him highly, and a team wanting to acquire him is going to have to pay a hefty price, perhaps even overpay.

Some say Coppolella, with his public statements expressing refusal to trade Freeman, has backed himself into a corner.  But, in a way, if they do trade Freeman, it would certainly be for a major package of talent, and Coppolella’s statements could actually help.  He can just say something like, “we had absolutely no intention of trading Freeman, we didn’t want to trade him, but this offer was too good to pass up.”  This would probably resonate with the casual fans who are more likely to oppose a Freeman trade.  If he sent signals that they are listening or looking to trade Freeman and they end up trading him, the perception among some fans might be that they settled simply out of a desire to move him.  And even if a team fails to overpay and the trade is merely a fair one, Coppolella can sell it better by saying, “it was obviously a great deal for us because look who we traded away, someone we didn’t want to trade away under any circumstances.”

This all my sound conspiratorial but I don’t necessarily think the Braves are set on trading Freeman and that Coppolella is making these statements about absolutely not moving him as part of some grand plan.  I think if a team offers them a great, fair package of cheap, young talent for Freeman, they’ll move him.  But while I don’t believe Coppolella when he says something like they won’t trade Freeman under any circumstances, I also don’t think Coppolella is actively shopping Freeman.  I just don’t think Coppolella and the Braves gain anything by sending any messages other than we aren’t looking to trade Freddie Freeman.

So will they move him?  I ultimately think they will.  A lot of it might depend on his health and performance this season.  If he has a big year and teams come calling with big offers, sometime before the 2017 season is the time to act.  Freeman will make $12 million this season but then his salary jumps to over $20 million a year for the next five seasons.  For a consistently solid performer like Freeman (when healthy), $20 million a year every year through his age 31 season isn’t unreasonable in a vacuum.  But if the Braves could move that contract and get plenty of young, cheap talent in return, that could open up some flexibility for them.

Plus recent history suggests they’ll move popular, cheap, young players for younger, cheaper talent.  Trading Heyward and Justin Upton seemed obvious.  Those players were headed toward free agency so trading them a year before they walked could be explained to even the most casual of Braves fans.  Then they traded Evan Gattis, then Craig Kimbrel, then Andrelton Simmons, then Shelby Miller (although the Miller trade was an easier sell than the rest, as the Braves got the first overall draft pick and more).  Freeman is a little different than most of the others they traded in that he’s an everyday, all-star-caliber player who has value both offensively and defensively.  But in terms of overall value, fan-favorite status and contract, there’s no reason to avoid trading Freeman (in the right deal) if they traded all those other players.  A Freeman trade would have to be the type deal that sets them up to be no-doubt contenders in 2017 or 2018 but I think it’s very possible as we approach 2017, as long as Freeman is healthy.

 

 

 

 

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