The Atlanta Braves set the world on fire on Tuesday. With first baseman Freddie Freeman 4-6 weeks away from returning from a broken wrist, manager Brian Snitker said that they’d consider moving Freeman to third base once he returned so fill-in first baseman Matt Adams could continue to play.
The Braves acquired Adams from the St. Louis Cardinals in late May, just a few days after a pitch broke Freeman’s wrist. Since then, Adams has impressed. In 29 games for the Braves, Adams has hit .296/.349/.635 with 10 home runs.
This is a good problem for the Braves to have. A lot of teams would love to have too many good first basemen. But moving Freeman, their franchise cornerstone first baseman, to third base as their solution seems borderline insane, even though Freeman isn’t a complete stranger to third base as Mark Bowman pointed out on MLB.com.
If the Braves go this route, Freeman would be the most likely to make the move to the hot corner. He played third base throughout his high school career, and he has always had the kind of unselfish approach that would lead him to do whatever necessary to benefit the team.
Regardless of whether or not Freeman is willing to move wherever the team needs him to, it feels pretty ridiculous for a rebuilding team to move one of their most valuable players to another position for the guy they picked up to fill in for him. It’s true that when a team stumbles on a player who’s performing well, they want to keep him, but it feels counterintuitive to all the sacrifices they’ve made throughout their rebuild.
If moving Freeman to third base is a bad idea, then what’s the alternative? Adams has played a few games in the outfield, but having him play there isn’t an option for the Braves. They have Nick Markakis and Matt Kemp in the outfield corners, and they shouldn’t go anywhere for Adams, who has just a few games experience in the outfield.
The only place that leaves for Adams is third base. It seems insane to move Adams there, but is it? It’s not that third base is easy, because it’s not. It’s a tough position to play. But if the Braves are looking to field the best offensive team without making their marquee player change positions, then third base is where Adams should land. It wouldn’t be pretty, but Freeman’s experience at third isn’t overwhelming, considering how long ago he played there regularly. That the team is even thinking about moving Freeman there means they’re willing to sacrifice a few plays to have both bats in the lineup. So why not give Adams a try if they’re willing to concede third base defense?
In the end, this all comes down to priorities. The Braves, a rebuilding team, need to decide what’s most important to them. Putting the best team on the field this year is important, but moving Freeman to third base for another three months of Adams seems ridiculous. So if they’re willing to try something that ridiculous, why not move Adams to third?
Or how about this easy solution: just trade Adams at the deadline. The Braves want both bats in their lineup this year, but does Adams fit into their plans in 2018 and beyond? If they don’t want to keep him around long term, moving their elite first baseman to third base to keep him playing seems like a silly and shortsighted move. If they’re not willing to try Adams at third base, they’re better off trading him to another team rather than making a move that could mess around with Freeman, one of the only completely untouchable players throughout the Braves rebuild.
There is a silver lining for the Braves: they have another 4-6 weeks before Freeman will be back. That gives them time to explore more options, which can and should include trading Adams at the deadline. But that also gives Adams time to come back to earth. He’s put up his best numbers in 3-4 years, numbers that are frankly normal for Freddie Freeman. Adams could make the decision a lot easier if his bat cools off.
This is a tough decision for the Braves. They want to put the best team they can out on the field right now, and currently that’s a team that includes both Adams and Freeman. But for a rebuilding team, it can’t just be about the now. Every decision has to take the future into account, too.
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