Not FREE, man. Still Inexpensive Though.

Freddie Freeman just got an 8 year $135 million dollar contract.

‘Wow,’ was what I first thought.

Then the ultra critical, Holmes-ian part of my brain kicked in. 

Freeman is young. 24. Not turning 25 until next September. 

Didn’t Freeman receive NL MVP votes this year? Yea, he did. He placed 5th.

Well, $135 million sounds like a ton. But wait, that’s $16.8 per year…or, more than $8 million less than Ryan Howard is making in 2014, as a (broken down) 34 year old. 

Sadly, the obvious needs to be stated; every professional sports contract comes with risk. If you sign, and likely overpay for a late 20-something, early 30-something year old free agent you may be paying for past production that you’ll never benefit from. 

In Freeman’s case, as SI’s Cliff Corcoran states here, he may have had the best season he’ll ever have, last year. If that’s true, the Braves could be on the precipice of paying a non-All Star, at an easy-to-fill position, a substantial sum of money. And they’re not the spendthrift Yankees or Red Sox. 

I believe Corcoran, and anyone else who thinks the Braves overpayed Freeman either in years or dollars is wrong. 

Freeman isn’t the power/average/speed combo that MVP runner up Paul Goldschmidt is. In fact, Goldschmidt is better, and CHEAPER than Freeman thanks to the extension he signed last March. In no year of his extension will Goldschmidt make within $2 million of what Freeman will average. 

You read that and think, yea, the Braves made an awful deal.

Those who act quickly during team controlled and arbitration years on young-ish players, if they’ve scouted and projected correctly, often save big. Those savings are often on All Star level players, or in Andrew McCutchen’s case, Pittsburgh will never pay the reigning NL MVP more than $14.75 million a year. McCutchen is a star and the Pirates will reap the benefits of every year of his athletic prime for an incredibly low price. 

Quick aside for McCutchen then back to why I’m confident the Freeman deal is a savvy one. McCutchen will play ’14 as a 27 year old. That’s close enough to somewhat typical free agent age. Let’s say like Miguel Cabrera, the ’13 MVP became a free agent after next season, at 28. Can you imagine what his cost would be on the open market. We MIGHT be discussing Alex Rodriguez money. 

Nothing’s guaranteed, but Freeman SHOULD be able to hover close to his ’13 numbers. In other words, I don’t think it was a fluke, nor do I forecast a massive regression. 

Corcoran states that he sees a future drop off from Freeman because of his unsustainable .371 on BABIP. 

For context, Cabrera’s BABIP was .356 last year, and .346 for his career. Last year, McCutchen’s was .332. 

Corcoran is right about the instability of .371 over time. 

Consider two things though. One, Freeman is 24. It’s fair to conclude we’ve yet to see him meet his full power potential as he grows closer to his physical prime. 21, 23, and 23 homers, could easily blossom to 28, 29, 30 or more in the next few seasons, especially in Atlanta’s steamy summers. 

If you’ve read here before, you know that I need to see a substat that factors in to BABIP. I do believe luck IS factored in to that stat. Luck is unsustainable. Sometimes weakly tapped, thousand hoppers find their way past three gloves up the middle. Other times, screaming, decapitating, widow making line drives find gloves. 

With BABIP I need LD%. If you hit a lot of line drives you’re going have a BABIP, a high average for quite some time. 

Fangraphs doesn’t have such advanced statistics dating backinto the 80s and 90s, but can we agree Tony Gwynn, while he had some speed, was no Vince Coleman. He had little thump. 135 home runs in 20 years; just 5 times he reached double digits. Gwynn is my Ted Williams. He was a line drive hitter. 

For contemporary context, Cabrera’s LD% (when they stay in the yard, he hits those screamers, right?) the last years are 21, 22 and 24. If you’re over 20 you it’s likely you’re a worthy opponent 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher. 

You should see where this is going. Freeman’s LD% are 23, 26 and 28(!). A .371 BABIP will come and often go, but you can pencil him in for at least a .290 average in the years ahead. 

142, 129 and 121 are Freeman’s strikeout totals the last few years. And he’s never walked more than 70 times in a year. But again, with age not only comes power at the plate, but discernment. That can already be seen in Freeman’s incremental drop in K% from 22 to 21 to 19.

The Braves made a good deal. For now and very much so for the future. 


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