Six first basemen have scored nine-figure contracts in their 30s, and the results haven’t necessarily been good. Mega deals from Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols turned into problems almost immediately. So did Ryan Howard’s. Offers from Jason Giambi and Carlos Lee started well, but fizzled out in the back half.
Then there’s Paul Goldschmidt, who signed a five-year, $130 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals in March 2019, a deal that wouldn’t start until his 32-year-old season in 2020. He now serves as the best and most fitting comparison for Freddie Freeman, the five-time All-Star with the World Series champion Atlanta Braves, who surprisingly remains a free agent as Major League Baseball navigates an extended lockout.
Goldschmidt produced like an elite first baseman in the first two years of his contract, posting an .881 OPS while providing typically excellent defense, and there have been no real signs of a dramatic decline. Those things tend to happen quickly, suddenly. But the general hesitancy to lavish money on a first-baseman slugger in recent years doesn’t apply as strongly to Freeman, a naturally gifted hitter and top-tier defender who isn’t looking for a deal that will land him in his late 30s or early 40s.
The sticking point for Freeman, who turned 32 in September, appears to revolve around a guaranteed sixth year, which would mean receiving top pay at his position through the 37-year-old season. Is it worth that amount of money at that time? Probably not. But teams know this when they break the bank for star players; the hope is to receive enough elite production in the early part of the deal to justify the decline in value in the late part.
Freeman’s track record suggests he can provide that. From 2011 to 2021, he amassed the ninth-most wins above replacement (42.4 according to FanGraphs) in baseball while ranking 13th in weighted runs created plus (139) and 12th in OPS (.894). He has finished each of the last nine years with at least three in fWAR, including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, which saw him win the NL MVP Award. The 2021 season, which ended in a championship, was one of the most productive. Now Freeman is the leading hitter in what began as a loaded class of free agents. And because the Braves haven’t locked him up with a deal yet, he’ll be among the most coveted players in the game when business resumes.
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