ATLANTA — It’s hard to imagine Atlanta baseball without Freddie Freeman. It’s also hard to imagine baseball in Houston without Carlos Correa. But with the Braves holding a 3-1 lead in the World Series, only one win away from claiming the title, Sunday night’s Game 5 could be the end of the road for both players, who will officially become free agents five days after the World Series ends.
Both players were drafted by their current teams as teenagers, made their big league debuts at 20 years old and quickly became star players at the highest level. They are beloved by their fan bases. And yet, the business of baseball shows us year after year that things change.
“I’m trying to not think about that,” Freeman said before Game 3. “Yeah, I did — I was talking to my agent yesterday actually, and it kind of came up that this is three more games here. I haven’t envisioned playing anywhere else because I haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
FOSTER: If Braves win World Series, give Kyle Wright the honorary MVP
In his 12th season with the Braves, this is Freeman’s first trip to the World Series. For Correa, it’s his third trip in seven big league seasons. For all three of those trips — 2017, 2019 and 2021 — he was the shortstop in an infield with Jose Altuve at second, Alex Bregman at third and Yuli Gurriel at first base. That type of consistency and cohesion is rare in today’s game, and that’s one reason it’s hard to imagine Houston without Correa.
“We’ve enjoyed all of the years we played together,” Correa said before Game 4. “We’ve done some great things. We’ve made history. I love that group of guys with all my heart. So right now we’re just focused on the now and try to win this series. Then we can talk about all that later.”
There will be no shortage of teams interested in both players.
When the Sporting News free-agent rankings are released later this week (spoiler!), Correa — who just turned 27 last month — will sit atop the list and Freeman will be solidly in the top 10. This is both players’ first time on the free-agent market, though it will be Freeman’s second lucrative deal. Freeman, who turned 32 in September, and the Braves are at the end of an eight-year, $135 million extension they signed in February 2014 that bought out multiple arbitration and free-agent seasons.
“I’ve put on this uniform since 2007, (when) I got to put on a Braves uniform with the Gulf Coast League team,” Freeman said. “It’s all I’ve ever known. But it is a little weird that by next Sunday, Monday, I could be a free agent, which is very, very weird to me. It hasn’t hit me because I’m trying to put that off because a little bit more important things at task right now.”
MORE: Full list of 2021 Sporting News MLB Awards
For years, Freeman wore the unofficial mantle as “the most underrated player in baseball” because, despite his success, the Braves weren’t factors in October and Freeman didn’t receive as much support in MVP voting as Atlanta fans thought he deserved. Those days are gone, though. Freeman won the 2021 NL MVP and now has his Braves on the precipice of the World Series championship.
“He means a lot to this franchise, to me personally, to our organization, to that clubhouse, our team. There isn’t a way to quantify it,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Just what he brings is so important. But we all know when this is over, we’ll see. Hopefully, he’s back. But I don’t know how all that will work. It’s not my area really. Would I love to have him back? Absolutely. I think everybody in that room would love to have him back, but I also know this is a business and things happen.”
And what does Freeman think? He’s not exactly showing his poker face.
“I think everyone in this room knows I want to stay here,” he said.
Correa was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and in many ways he was the most important piece in Houston’s complete rebuild. Houston had the No. 1 overall pick three years in a row; they picked Correa in 2012, Mark Appel in 2013 and Brady Aiken in 2013. Appel’s career was derailed by injuries and Aiken didn’t sign, after a dispute between the player and team about medical issues.
It’s important to note, though, that the Astros picked Bregman No. 2 overall the next year with the compensation pick for not signing Aiken. In the same month that Bregman was picked, Correa made his MLB debut. That’s one hell of a month for the club, eh?
MORE: Dansby Swanson finally got his game-changing postseason moment
Correa took to the big leagues immediately, winning the AL Rookie of the Year award despite playing only 99 games. He’s had some injury issues — he’s only played 140 games or more twice, including 2021 — but there’s no about about his value to the team.
“He’s a very, very intelligent person and ballplayer. He’s very dedicated,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s not the oldest, but he’s — you know, has tremendous leadership qualities. He’s ahead of the game in most areas of the game that day, the previous day, and the ensuing days. I mean, this guy, his attitude is always the same. You can’t tell when he’s up or when he’s down, he’s going good or he’s going poorly. He’s a guy that these guys gravitate towards and look up to.”
In his 77 career playoff games with the Astros, Correa has 18 homers and 57 RBIs, to go with an .845 OPS. He’s struggled a bit at the plate in the World Series, but he’s made several outstanding defensive plays, and his strong arm has been on display several times, especially when turning double plays. Correa’s defense — he was named the Fielding Bible’s best shortstop in 2021 — is yet another reason he’ll land a massive contract somewhere.
“We obviously know that’s a reality that it could be the last series we all play together. Hopefully not,” Gurriel said. “There’s still the hope that he comes back. Since I’ve been here, I’ve felt really comfortable and felt really good with the infield we have here. So I still have hope that it’s not the end for it.”
He’s not the only one — in Houston or Atlanta — hoping for the star to stay home.