In the throes of a major rebuilding process, the Atlanta Braves are reportedly willing to consider selling just about anything and anyone that isn’t nailed down. Although they have already stripped themselves dangerously close to the bone at the major league level, there is still talent to be had, and their self-imposed refurbishment could be to the benefit of the Boston Red Sox—especially if the Braves could be convinced to give up their prize first baseman, Freddie Freeman.
First base was a series of ups and downs for the Red Sox in 2015. Beloved and bearded veteran Mike Napoli hit so poorly (.207) that he was sent to the Texas Rangers in August. Rookie Travis Shaw hit .270 with 13 home runs in 65 games but given he had never been considered a top-tier prospect, expecting him to continue producing on such a level is a risky proposition.
Technically, the Red Sox have first basemen already on the roster for 2016. Shaw will likely get a few at-bats here and there, but as things stand the bulk of playing time will go to Hanley Ramirez after it was determined he could no longer play in the outfield following a historically disastrous 2015 campaign in the field. Having never played first base before should give the team their fans pause about handing the reins for yet another new position to the career shortstop/third baseman.
Ramirez is owed approximately $90 million over the next four years and is a career .296 hitter with power. If he is put in the right glove situation, he can still bring back a reasonable return on his contract. There are some ways to get him off first base in 2016, includeing trading Pablo Sandoval (easier said than done) and putting him at third; making Ramirez a jack of all trades until he can take over designated hitter full time once David Ortiz retires after next year; obtain another first baseman and do nothing until the end of spring training in the event injuries rear their ugly head.
Freeman would be a costly prize for the Red Sox, but one potentially worth opening up the proverbial wallet. The 26-year-old left-handed hitter has 162-game averages of .285, 22 home runs and 91 RBIs in his five-plus seasons as a major leaguer. He is also a patient hitter (.366 career OBP), which would fit well with the Boston team philosophy of seeing pitches and making pitchers work. While he doesn’t have a reputation for his glove, he is certainly serviceable. Perhaps the best aspect of bringing him on board is the fact that he is under team control through the 2021 season ($118.5 million remaining over those six years). For a player of his caliber, that is considered a steal in the ever-growing realm of baseball contracts.
For their part, Atlanta has denied they are actively shopping Freeman. His departure would not only create a talent void on their already depleted roster, but it would be sure to anger the team’s fan base, who figure to have little to cheer about in the next few years. However, any team truly looking to rebuild should be willing to listen on any of their assets. Their first baseman is a great chip, so putting him on the market is well within the realm of possibility.
A number of pundits believe the Red Sox gave up too much in their recent trade for their new closer, Craig Kimbrel. A trade for Freeman would likely cost more. Fortunately, the Red Sox still have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Although they’d have to give up some top prospects to pry the first baseman loose, it’s important to remember they are just that at this points—prospects. On the other hand, Freeman is under team control for a reasonable price throughout his prime years. That value cannot be understated. There’s no need speculating what prospects would make a deal work, as Boston has a number of young players that have wide-spread appeal. It will just come down to whether or not they’d be willing to part with the right combination to entice Atlanta to return potential phone calls.
The Red Sox have been seeking a long-term solution at first base since the departure of Mo Vaughn 17 years ago. They have had some good ones, but other than the five years Kevin Youkilis as a converted third baseman they have all been short term and more often than not, older veterans. It looked like Boston had their man a couple of times, only to see the player moved to another squad. Anthony Rizzo was a top prospect looking like the heir apparent but he was traded in 2010 in order to bring in established star Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez was signed to a massive contract in 2011 but traded the following year in an effort to bring financial relief. It just hasn’t worked out.
Obviously, with the Red Sox having won three World Series in the years since they last had a long-term first baseman, it’s not a necessity. However, adding a player of Freeman’s caliber would be a prudent move, especially considering the impending departure of Ortiz. Prospects are nice to have but so are established young players. Opportunities like this don’t come up all the time, so before any final decisions are made the team should consider long and hard about making a run at Freeman.
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