With three of the top-ranked free agent shortstops already off the board and a lack of true upgrades at other positions of need like catcher and center field available, is it possible the Yankees pivot their attention to first base once the lockout ends and baseball activity can resume? If they do, one free agent option stands above the rest: Freddie Freeman.
This past season, Freeman was his dynamic self as he led the Ronald Acuña and Mike Soroka-less Atlanta Braves to the organization’s first World Series title in 26 years. The star first baseman followed up his stellar MVP season with another excellent year, as he slashed .300/.393/.503 with 31 home runs and 120 RBI. In 159 games, he posted a strikeout rate of just 15.4 percent, a walk rate of 12.2 percent, a .379 wOBA, and a 135 wRC+, all while producing a 4.5 fWAR.
Look at all that red! Freeman is the definition of an elite offensive talent, and virtually every single metric from 2021 proves it. The wild part about Freeman’s 2021 season, though, was just how close most of those stats are to his career baseline numbers. Across his entire career, Freeman’s walk rate is 11.7%, his wOBA is .379, and his wRC+ is 138. The only thing that was slightly off was his strikeout percentage. While 15.4 percent is quite the dip from his career average of 19.7 percent, it should be noted that this rate is inflated because he struck out a lot more from 2011-2016 than he has from 2017-present. In short, this season from Freddie Freeman—which was absolutely stellar—was basically just another season for him.
Speaking of career marks, it might be a good time to pause and explore how his offense grades out against the competition. Since making his full-time debut in 2011 (he only played in 20 games in 2010), Freeman has posted a 139 wRC+. By way of comparison, he ranks fourth amongst first basemen in that time, trailing only Joey Votto (148), Miguel Cabrera (143), and Paul Goldschmidt (141). Additionally, he has posted a 42.4 fWAR since 2011, ranking him third amongst first basemen, behind only Goldschmidt (46.3) and Votto (45.2). In terms of all position players since 2011, Freeman ranks 13th in wRC+ and ninth in fWAR. So, in short, to say Freddie Freeman has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last ten years might actually be an understatement. He’s a bonafide superstar.
If you thought his 2021 percentile rankings chart was pretty to look at, wait until you get a look at his career spray chart:
Freddie Freeman has the ability to drive the ball to the entire field. Coupled with his incredible strikeout percentage that placed him in the 86th percentile across the league and his elite walk rate, Freeman is the exact type of hitter the Yankees need to take the next step.
If I were to get nitpicky, the only thing about his 2021 batted ball profile that would cause some alarm is his groundball rate. Last season, he hit a groundball 43.2 percent of the time. The reason that I bring that up is because this ranking coincided with a dip in both launch angle (12 degrees) and barrel percentage (11.5 percent). I’m not overly concerned with this, however, because of his track record. His career mark for groundball percentage is 37.3 percent, his average launch angle is 14.8 degrees, and his career barrel percentage is 11.9 percent. In terms of offensive production, though, if Freddie Freeman was able to post a 135 wRC+ while hitting the ball on the ground over 43 percent of the time, imagine how much more damage he’ll do when he levels out to his career marks.
On the defensive side of the ball, Freeman has long been a very solid defender. In 2021, Freeman posted an OAA of 4, ranking him in the 86th percentile across the MLB. In terms of DRS, he posted a slightly above average ranking of 2. While these stats are nothing overly special, he would still represent a huge upgrade for the Yankees. And, even if he were to take a step back on defense, his offensive production has been so good that it likely wouldn’t matter all that much.
Coming into this offseason, the Yankees’ wish list went far beyond a couple position players. Aside from adding a little bit of speed to a dreadfully slow team, Freddie Freeman checks every single box for the Yankees. He is a left-handed bat who can hit for power while walking a lot, rarely striking out, making consistent, solid contact, and playing solid defense. Due to his status in Atlanta and his importance to the team, however, it may be hard for Cashman and Co. to convince him to leave the organization he’s been with since he was drafted in 2007. And, while it remains to be seen whether the Yankees will decide to spend this offseason, one thing is for sure: Freeman should absolutely be at the top of their target list when baseball activity is allowed to resume.