Freddie Freeman news: Explaining Rays interest, and where Braves have the edge

Atlanta Braves, MLB Free Agency, Tampa Bay Rays

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Freddie Freeman, one of the top free agents on the market, has received some interest from the small-market Tampa Bay Rays. It took us all by surprise.

The Rays payroll is typically in the $75 million – $85 million range, if not less certain years. That’s about where they project to be for the 2022 season, assuming they don’t add a talent like Freeman.

The talented first baseman remains far apart with the Braves on a new contract, as Atlanta refuses to add a sixth year to any offer. Freeman played out the final year on his deal this past season, leading the Braves to a World Series without complaining the least bit. Now, he wants his due.

Freddie Freeman rumors: Why are Rays interested?

Due to the lockout, the Braves haven’t been able to speak with Freeman or his representatives. Any interest garnered by other parties in Freeman was done before the lockout, but as the lockout drags on, the frustration from both sides is heightened.

The Rays don’t have many payroll commitments beyond the next few seasons. Arguably their best young asset — Wander Franco — signed an 11-year, $182 million contract, which could turn out to be a bargain if he becomes the perennial All-Star the Rays and baseball pundits expect.

That leaves more payroll, even on a small-market team, to take chances. Freeman would be a risk for a team like the Rays, sure. Especially on the six-year contract he expects. But the Rays have room at first base and designated hitter should they choose. MLB Trade Rumors summed up this expectation in their write-up on the Rays interest in Freeman:

“The conventional wisdom behind a small-market club like Tampa Bay being unable to “afford” a mega-deal for someone of Freeman’s caliber is that it’d restrict them from making further additions. Tying up such a large percentage of team payroll in a single player can obviously be hazardous. However, the Rays’ next nucleus already appears more or less in place and isn’t likely to be expensive anytime soon. Franco signed an 11-year, $182MM contract extension and won’t see his salary reach peak levels until 2028 — seven years from now (and, one year shorter than the six years reportedly sought by Freeman).”

The Rays are one of several teams fighting with the Braves for Freeman, including the Yankees, Blue Jays and Dodgers. They won’t be favored to sign him.

However, as a contender in the DH-friendly American League, Tampa Bay surely has an opportunity to add him to their corps. Atlanta does have the edge, however, in the total amount of money they’re willing to spend and familiarity with Freeman.

Despite their frustration with one another, it would still be a surprise if Freeman signs elsewhere.

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