MLB Free Agency: Kris Bryant, Freddie Freeman Nab Massive Deals

With the MLB lockout in the rearview mirror and the season creeping closer, teams are now hustling to add crucial pieces to their rosters in an ever-growing arms race between top contenders. Of course, there are always surprises to be had, such as with the case of third baseman Kris Bryant.

In a very unexpected turn of events, the Colorado Rockies signed the 30-year-old Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million deal on Wednesday. It’s the second-largest contract given this offseason behind Corey Seager’s 10-year, $325 million signing.

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In 144 games last season with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, Bryant hit .265/.353/.481 with 25 home runs, 73 RBIs, 86 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases. Bryant, a former MVP and four-time All-Star, registered a 1.1 WAR, the second-lowest season mark of his career.

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s difficult to say what the Rockies’ plan is here. The team finished fourth in a very tough NL West with a 74-87 record, and haven’t added many additional pieces beyond Bryant that would push them significantly above that win area. Fangraphs currently projects Colorado’s odds for a championship at 0.0%, with a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs.

Even more confusing is Colorado’s prior moves to eliminate cap space by trading homegrown talent Nolan Arenado, a six-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove award winner, to the Cardinals before the 2021 season. Arenado signed a nine-year, $275 million contract with Colorado back in 2019, which meant if they had kept the third baseman, they’d actually be set to pay him less ($179 million) in the same time the majority of Bryant’s contract lasts.

Of course, all players are different, so perhaps the Rockies feel more confident about Bryant’s value and versatility in a hitter-friendly environment over that time than Arenado. However, most would agree Arenado is likely to age better while having less injury concerns.

The Rockies weren’t the only western team to nab a premier player. After losing Seager, the Los Angeles Dodgers pivoted by signing 2020 NL MVP first baseman Freddie Freeman to a six-year, $162 million deal. Last year, Freeman hit .300/.393/.503 with 31 home runs, 83 RBIs, and scored a career-high 120 runs.

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As ESPN notes, Freeman’s deal is the second-highest average annual value (AAV) for a first-baseman ever at $27 million, right behind Miguel Cabrera’s $31 million AAV from the contract he signed with the Detroit Tigers back in 2012. With the deal, Los Angeles’ odds for the World Series rose from 6-1 to 5-1 at Caesars Sportsbook.

It’s another star for the Dodgers, who already possess former MVPs in Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, and Cody Bellinger. Freeman, 32, will bring a deadly combination of power and contact to a lineup that, along with Betts and Bellinger, features Trea Turner and Max Muncy.

For Atlanta Braves fans, it’s a tough pill to swallow. Freeman became a favorite amongst fans — as well as a respected clubhouse leader — during his 12 years in Atlanta. Freeman had previously rejected the $18.4 million qualifying offer the team presented. Still, it’s not as if Freeman’s time was wasted. Atlanta’s success over the last half decade culminated in a 2021 World Series victory.

“We went through the very highs together and some lows but those lows is what made last year so special,” Freeman said on social media in a letter to the fans. “I gave everything I had in and day out and I hope you guys saw that as well.”

Elsewhere in the league over the past week, outfielder Kyle Schwarber signed a four-year, $79 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the Cubs, and the Braves replaced Freeman with first baseman Matt Olson in a trade with the Oakland Athletics.