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Bolting Braves for Yankees or Dodgers? Top 5 free-agency fits for Freddie Freeman

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Six first basemen have attained nine-figure contracts in their 30s, and the results haven't necessarily been great. The megadeals for Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols became problems almost immediately. So did the one for Ryan Howard. Deals for Jason Giambi and Carlos Lee started off well but fizzled in the back halves.

Then there's Paul Goldschmidt, who signed a five-year, $130 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals in March of 2019, a deal that wouldn't begin until his age-32 season in 2020. He now serves as the best, most fitting comparison for Freddie Freeman, the five-time All-Star from the World Series champion Atlanta Braves, who surprisingly is still a free agent as Major League Baseball navigates an extended lockout.

Goldschmidt produced like an elite first baseman in the first two years of his deal, boasting an .881 OPS while providing typically excellent defense, and there have been no real signs of a dramatic drop-off. Those things tend to happen quickly, suddenly. But the general hesitancy to splurge on slugging first basemen in recent years doesn't apply as strongly to Freeman, a naturally gifted hitter and a premier defender who isn't looking for a deal to take him through his late 30s or into his early 40s.

The sticking point for Freeman, who turned 32 in September, seems to revolve around a sixth guaranteed year, which would mean getting paid among the highest at his position as late as his age-37 season. Will he deserve that kind of money by that point? Probably not. But teams know this when they break the bank for star players; the hope is to receive enough elite production on the front end to justify diminishing value on the back end.

Freeman's track record suggests he can provide that. From 2011 to 2021, he accumulated the ninth-most FanGraphs wins above replacement (42.4) in baseball while ranking 13th in weighted runs created plus (139) and 12th in OPS (.894). He has finished each of the past nine years with at least three fWAR -- including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, which saw him earn the National League's Most Valuable Player Award. The 2021 season, which ended in a championship, was one of his most productive. Now Freeman is the best hitter in what began as a loaded free-agent class. And because the Braves have yet to lock him up, he will be among the sport's most coveted players when business resumes.

We've identified his five best fits below.