Tea Freddie Freeman bidding has a new entrant, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweet that the Red Sox have joined the fray. They’ll join a field that has already included the Yankees, Blue Jays, Dodgers and, somewhat surprisingly, the Rays. Tampa Bay reportedly made an offer to Freeman prior to the lockout, and Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported last night that the Rays remain interested. However, he suggests their interest is limited to a shorter-term deal — presumably at what would be a massive annual rate. That doesn’t appear too likely, of course, given the interest from larger-market clubs with deep pockets. As of yesterday afternoon, reports indicated that the Yankees were “pessimistic” about their chances of signing Freeman, while other clubs viewed the Blue Jays as a serious threat.
A Freeman signing would give the BoSox an elite heart-of-the-order grouping, as he’d join Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and JD Martinez in composing the team’s two-through-five hitters. Adding Freeman to the fold would likely mean supplanting 26-year-old Bobby Dalbec at first base, though even with his big finish to the 2021 season, Dalbec isn’t going to serve as a roadblock to a superstar of Freeman’s caliber. Dalbec struggled through a dismal first half before slashing .269/.344/.611 in his final 195 plate appearances, although he did so in spite of a 31.3% strikeout rate and still finished the year with an overall batting line of .240/ .298/.494.
The larger question for the Red Sox is likely a matter of payroll — more specifically, the luxury tax. Last week’s newly ratified collective bargaining agreement bumped the tier-one threshold for penalization from $210MM to $230MM, but the Sox are already at about $209MM of luxury obligations (via Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez). Adding Freeman to the mix would send Boston soaring past that mark. The Sox have paid the tax in the past, but more recently ownership has been staunchly against doing so. Freeman is the type of player for whom many clubs might consider an exception, but it’s not yet clear whether Boston would feel that way or whether any Freeman interest is contingent on moving other salary.
If the Sox are indeed willing to pay the tax, it’d likely only be a one-year dip into those waters. Boston’s luxury obligations will plummet following the season, dropping from the current $209MM level all the way to $75MM. That doesn’t even include the possibility of Bogaerts opting out of his six-year, $120MM contract — which seems quite likely and would further shave another $20MM from that luxury ledger. The Red Sox have Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez, Enrique Hernández, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, Matt Strahm and Kevin Plawecki all coming off the books following the 2022 season.
Again, that doesn’t make it any kind of lock that they’ll be comfortable putting forth a multi-year deal of six years in the $30MM annual value range, which is generally believed to be where Freeman’s asking price currently lies. But there’s a clear on-paper fit and the long-term payroll flexibility to make it work, as MLBTR’s Anthony Franco noted when picking the Sox to sign Freeman back in November.
Wherever Freeman lands, it’s become quite clear that he’s set to move on from the only organization he’s ever known. The Braves acquired Matt Olson in a trade with the Athletics yesterday — a move that president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos called the toughest transaction of his lengthy executive career while fighting back tears (video link through Bally Sports). Anthopoulos noted multiple times that he couldn’t “get into specifics” as to why the deal was so difficult to make, though the implication was clear.