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Freddie Freeman Makes the Strongest Team in Baseball Even Stronger

The most amazing thing about the new Dodgers first baseman is that he has never had a bad year, even by his standards. His consistency is a welcomed, if not needed, addition to L.A.’s lineup.

A few hours before news broke that the Dodgers had signed Freddie Freeman to a six-year, $162-million contract, Andrew Friedman was asked about his interest in the first baseman on MLB Network. The L.A. president of baseball operations had a simple answer: “He’s a really, really, really good baseball player.” But then he broke into an enormous grin. He rose up as if he was standing on his tiptoes. If he had verbally communicated one thing with his safe, straightforward one-liner, he had visually communicated another: Friedman just could not hold back that he was really, truly, seriously interested in Freeman.

And who could blame him? If you were presiding over a team already projected to be the best in baseball, and you were closing in on a long-term deal with a star of this caliber, wouldn’t you be grinning and rising out of your shoes as you tried to play coy about it on national television?

Before the end of the night, Friedman had made the five-time All-Star a Dodger. In doing so, he took the strongest team in baseball and made it even stronger.

Freddie Freeman Site

How best to describe this fearsome club now? Its updated lineup reads like something out of a video game—a collection of talent that pushes right up against the boundaries of what reality will allow. The Dodgers now have a 2020 MVP (Freeman), 2019 MVP (Cody Bellinger) and 2018 MVP (Mookie Betts). Their projected win total from Baseball Prospectus has been revised upward to 102.8. The Dodgers did not really need Freeman, insofar as they did not have a specific hole on their roster to fill, or a general need to upgrade their lineup. But they sure had a reason to want him: Freeman was the most consistent player available in free agency, and his presence would have immediately made any team noticeably better, no matter how good they were to begin with.

Freeman’s talent is obvious. Just in the last four seasons, he has a Gold Glove, three Silver Sluggers, three trips to the All-Star Game and four finishes in the Top 10 for MVP. But his greatest asset might be his steadiness. Just look at his career WAR graph from FanGraphs:

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Freddie Freeman cumulative fWAR by age

For even the most talented players, there is usually a point where the upward slope here grows notably less pronounced, or where the line stalls out completely for a year—a season compromised by bad performance, or lost due to injury, or something. For Freeman? It’s almost a perfectly straight line. He’s simply never had a bad year. It’s as if he is constitutionally incapable of finishing a season with less than 3.0 WAR: Even during the 60-game season in 2020, when that feat was supremely difficult, Freeman had the best performance of his career, put up a WAR total that would not have been out of place in a full 162 and won MVP. He has never had a meaningful slump: The lefty has not posted an OPS+ below 130 since he turned 23.

All of that is possible because he has been both unfailingly good and almost unfailingly healthy. In 12 years, he has made only five trips to the IL, none of which lasted longer than a few weeks. (Only two of those five have occurred in the last five years, and both were for specific, short-term issues: One for COVID in 2020 and one for a wrist broken by a HBP in 2017.) He has played in more than 155 games in each of the last three full seasons. In short? He’s a model of dependability.

Still, Freeman is 32. It’s a tricky age to pursue a long-term deal in free agency; eventually, the reality of the aging curve will come for every player, no matter how long the record of consistency. Freeman reportedly placed importance on signing for six years, rather than five, and that surely played some role in shaping the details of his market. (As seen by the Braves, his former team, ultimately finding their first baseman of the future in Matt Olson—a player who is similar in many ways to Freeman but, crucially, is four and a half years younger.) But Freeman’s skill set is positioned to age well—both offensively and defensively—and it seems wise to count on this paragon of consistency to keep looking like one for at least a few more years.

Essentially? There’s even more reason now to bet on the Dodgers to win the World Series. Just don’t bet on Andrew Friedman to have a great poker face about it.

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