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Most free agent position players linked to the Seattle Mariners this offseason have two things in common. A strong offensive résumé and the ability to play second base and/or third base. Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, and Javier Báez are prominent examples. But what if the Mariners targeted a different type of infielder? A first baseman to be exact.

What if the Mariners pursued long-time Atlanta Brave and current free agent Freddie Freeman?

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Braves inquired about the availability of Oakland’s All-Star first baseman, Matt Olson, prior to the MLB lockout. It is certainly possible Freeman returns to the only organization he’s known. But reports of Atlanta window shopping for his replacement suggests the 2020 NL MVP may be playing with another team in 2022. Why couldn’t that team be the Mariners?

Numbers Don’t Lie

Freeman’s presence would undoubtedly bolster the Mariners on several fronts. Most importantly, the three-time Silver Slugger would energize an offense that was one of the least productive in MLB last year.

Freddie Freeman In 2021
HR
BB%
K%
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
wRC+
31
12.2
15.4
.300
.393
.503
.379
135
MLB
8.8
22.6
.247
.321
.418
.319
100

Throughout his career, Freeman has possessed a potent bat and a superb sense of the strike zone. In 2021, he clobbered 31 home runs and 25 doubles, while maintaining walk and strikeout rates significantly better than the league average in each category. Furthermore, only 22 qualified hitters bettered his 135 wRC+ last year, which tells us he was one of the most productive hitters in MLB.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantifies how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.

Freeman’s elite blend of power and on-base ability would easily fill the void created by the departure of the now-retired Kyle Seager. If the 32-year-old had been a Mariner in 2021, he would’ve led the team in hits, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, xwOBA, and wRC+. Only Mitch Haniger (39) and Seager (35) hit more home runs than Freeman.

I’m not much for drawing up lineups. But consider a batting order consisting of the following names.

Notional 2022 Mariners Lineup
J.P. Crawford (SS)
Adam Frazier (2B)
Ty France (3B)
Freddie Freeman (1B)
Mitch Haniger (RF)
Jarred Kelenic (CF)
Kyle Lewis (LF)
Luis Torrens (DH)
Tom Murphy/Cal Raleigh (C)

Bicker over the order of names if you feel compelled to do so. But doesn’t the thought of manager Scott Servais having the preceding hitters available to him on a regular basis sound more appealing than anything we saw from the Mariners in 2021?

I believe so. Especially with switch-hitting Abraham Toro and super-versatile Dylan Moore potentially serving in utility roles and heralded outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez likely to join the Mariners sometime during the season.

Been There, Done That

Beyond his offensive prowess, Freeman would instantly bring a gravitas to Seattle not seen since Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz were with the club. Considering his experience with the Braves, the 12-year veteran’s presence would be particularly beneficial to the Mariners. A franchise emerging from a rebuild with designs on contending in 2022.

Freeman was the only established player Atlanta retained throughout a rebuild phase that commenced after the 2013 season. He would endure four consecutive losing seasons before the Braves began winning again. More recently, the club has won four straight NL East division titles and earned the 2021 World Series trophy.

The Mariners absolutely could use a contributor like Freeman, who lived through a rebuild and then guided a team teeming with young, promising players to October glory. It’s hard to find leaders with that breadth of experience.

Speaking of the postseason, Freeman brings something else to the table. He’s a proven high stakes performer. In 42 playoff games, the five-time All-Star has hit 9 doubles, 9 home runs, and slashed .290/.393/.523. No current Mariner has anything remotely close to this kind of postseason credibility.

Mr. Dependable

Certainly, signing a player entering his age-32 season to a long-term deal is a risky proposition. After all, Father Time eventually gets everyone. But Freeman has been the model of durability throughout his career. The last time he missed significant playing time was 2017 when a wrist fracture sidelined him for 44 games. Since then, only Whit Merrifield of the Royals has appeared in more contests (542) than the former Braves first baseman (539).

Still, it’s worth noting Merrifield benefited from being on an AL team, which uses a designated hitter. Conversely, Freeman played in a league that continued using the archaic strategy of intentionally allowing pitchers to hit. The lone exception was the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Why does this matter?

It turns out that Freeman has actually played more games (536) and innings (4,616) in the field than anyone in MLB since the start of the 2018 season.

Most Innings Played in the Field (2018-21)
Freddie Freeman (4,616)
Paul Goldschmidt (4,459.2)
Cesar Hernandez (4,457)
Ozzie Albies (4,378)
Nolan Arenado (4,377.1)
Matt Olson (4,362)
Trevor Story (4,296.1)
Matt Chapman (4,228.2)
Anthony Rizzo (4,217.1)
Carlos Santana (4,158.2)

While we’re discussing playing the field, advanced metrics suggest Freeman was a slightly above average defender in 2021. Per FanGraphs, he accrued two defensive runs saved (DRS), good enough for eleventh best among MLB first baseman. Statcast rated him about the same awarding three outs above average (OAA), ranking him seventh among peers. Bottom line: the 2018 Gold Glove winner won’t be a liability at first base.

Money Matters

If the Mariners had interest in pursuing Freeman, the organization has the financial wherewithal to do so. We know this because GM Jerry Dipoto made it abundantly clear to Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish and other media members that team would have more financial flexibility in 2022.

“Asked if John Stanton, the Mariners chairman and majority shareholder, had offered any assurance to increase payroll significantly to be aggressive in courting free agents this offseason, Dipoto offered a succinct reply: ‘Yes.’” – Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

Let’s say Freeman was willing to accept a Seattle offer in the neighborhood of six years and $165 million; numbers Rosenthal suggested in his story. Would it make sense for the Mariners to pull the trigger on such a deal? Doing so would mean committing a significant amount of capital to a corner infielder during his age 32 through 37 seasons.

Is that the kind of financial risk Dipoto, and ultimately ownership, would be willing to accept?

Decisions, Decisions

Perhaps the Mariners prefer investing in younger free agent infielders, such as Bryant and Story, to super-charge the offense. Or maybe the team focuses on signing an outfielder. The rumor mill has connected the team to former Met Michael Conforto and Japanese star Seiya Suzuki. Any of these four hitters would greatly enhance Seattle’s lineup in 2022. But they don’t carry the credentials of Freeman.

True, Bryant is a former Rookie of the Year and MVP winner and owns a World Series ring. But the 30-year-old earned that hardware in 2015-16. His offensive numbers have been excellent over the past five seasons, although not nearly as good as Freeman’s. Something else to consider; Bryant played in over 100 fewer games than Freeman during 2018-21 due to injuries.

Conforto is also a strong run producer, who has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. But the Seattle, Washington native has never been considered an elite hitter. Story has been more available than Bryant and Conforto. Yet, despite having played home games at Coors Field, his production numbers are noticeably lower than Freeman’s.

I’m not qualified to speak to Suzuki’s readiness to perform in MLB. But history does tell us few hitters beginning their career in Japan have enjoyed sustained success in the majors. Only four such players have accrued 10-or-more wins above replacement (bWAR) during their respective careers – Ichiro Suzuki (60 bWAR), Hideki Matsui (21.2), Shohei Ohtani (15.2), and Nori Aoki (10.4).

Will Suzuki flourish in the majors? I don’t know, although I’ll be rooting for him to do so. Welcoming talent from around the globe only makes MLB more fun and interesting. Still, the uncertainty surrounding a 27-year-old coming from a different league makes him a risky choice for a club in need of immediate results.

Then again, Ichiro was 27 when he debuted in MLB. All he did was lead the Mariners to the postseason as a rookie and produce career numbers certain to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer in just a few years.

Reality Check

In the end, Freeman may ultimately ink a deal keeping him a Brave for life. If he does leave Atlanta, it’s plausible he’d prefer playing on a team closer to his California roots. The Dodgers or Angels would be logical alternatives. Keeping this in mind, the Mariners might not have a realistic shot at signing Freeman for personal reasons. Expecting a thirty-something Dad to move his young family from Georgia to the Pacific Northwest might be too big of an ask.

Still, the Mariners are in dire need of a player with Freeman’s stature. If he were willing to move his family to Seattle, the team should seriously consider courting the former MVP.

Freeman has earned the individual hardware, endured a rebuild, helped develop a winning culture in Atlanta, and now he’s a World Series champion. Better yet, his recent numbers tell us there’s still something left in the tank to help another team win the ultimate prize.

Yes, the final leg of a long-term contract may not be pretty for Freeman’s next team. On the other hand, if he helped the Mariners reach a World Series before age-related regression set in, wouldn’t the sunk cost associated with his down years be worth it?

The answer is a resounding yes for me.

In the end, the Mariners probably won’t consider pursuing Freeman this offseason. But perhaps they should.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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