Many things have to go right for the Atlanta Braves to have a good season in 2015. This is a transition year. For the first time in more than two decades, we’re not looking at a Braves team as a legit contender for the World Series.
It doesn’t mean they won’t be competitive. They’ll again have pitching, and a solid staff will always give a team a chance. But this is not the roster we are used to seeing in Atlanta. It is step one in a process to get the Braves back on track.
There is one big key to this season, however, and it’s not just about wins and losses. The Braves need one player to buy into the strategy they have in place to get the organization back to where it was before.
A year ago the Braves invested in first baseman Freddie Freeman. They gave him the long-term contract, which meant they wanted Freeman to be the face of the franchise moving forward.
They didn’t give the big deal to Jason Heyward. They knew they couldn’t afford Heyward or Justin Upton, so when they had to select one to make a commitment to it was Freeman.
And now, at 25 years old, Freeman is the leader of this team. He’ll be in his fifth year as the starter at first base, which makes him the senior member of the starting lineup. In fact, Freeman is only one of three players still left from Bobby Cox’s last Braves team in 2010, when he, Mike Minor and Craig Kimbrel were all starting their big league careers.
Chipper Jones is long gone now. Brian McCann is in New York. Even Jason Heyward, who had been the elder statesman last year, is now gone. Freeman is the only one left, and he is the one the front office will build around as they construct the future rosters.
That puts pressure on Freeman to be the man, to be the one all the others look up to in the locker room. He might not want that responsibility, but Freeman will have it anyway. Whenever you make a lot of money, teammates will look to that player for leadership. It’s not like they’re going to look to Melvin Upton for leadership.
You have to be good to be a leader, and Freeman can be really good.
Freeman reportedly has bought in with the plan in place. The front office rightfully met with Freeman before they all left for Florida to explain the strategy for making the Braves contenders again. It includes being competitive the entire time, but to simultaneously build the farm system up to be even more successful in the coming years.
Freeman needs to step up and live up to the big contract he signed a year ago. He’s going to be here through at least 2021. He’s been a very good player so far in his career, with a .286 batting average and a .366 on base percentage. But the Braves need Freeman to be great. The offense is going to be different this year, with the power bats gone. Freeman needs to be the biggest threat in the lineup.
It’s more, however, than what Freeman does on the field. They really need him to develop into a leader. That’s one reason the team brought in veterans like Jonny Gomes and A.J. Pierzynski, older guys who have an edge that might help show Freeman what he has to do to lead the team.
And it is his team. It’s one in a transition unlike we’ve seen in many years, but the one constant is Freeman. That makes him extremely important for the short-term and long-term of this franchise.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freeman a key to the season
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