Freeman’s willingness to move to 3B says a lot about player

Move Freddie Freeman to third base? Balderdash, I said initially. Or, rather, I would’ve said that initially if I used such words. Instead, I said something along the likes of that’s (bleeping) ridiculous.

Freddie Freeman is the Braves’ franchise player, and he’s setting an example of a “team guy” with his selfless willingness to move to third base. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

But anyway, after communicating with certain folks last night and getting a better understanding of why the Braves are even considering moving their franchise player and one of the game’s two or three best first basemen across the diamond to the hot corner, to a position that Freeman last played for five games a full decade ago in rookie ball, to accommodate a guy (Matt Adams) who’s had a hot first month with the Braves, well, I had a change of heart.

Not that I don’t still think it’s a bad idea. I do. I think. But at least now I understand why it’s being considered. And that’s because Freeman is onboard with the possible move. In fact, my initial understanding is that he either suggested it himself or immediately said he’d gladly do it when it was suggested as one of the possible otions. Either way, this is a positive for the Braves, and I mean an even bigger positive than the potential of having both Freeman and Adams in the lineup without having to move a Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis to make it happen.

The bigger positive I’m referring to is that it made crystal clear, even more than it already was, that Freddie Freeman was the perfect guy to give the largest contract the Braves ever gave a player and the man to keep when they started moving so many others at the outset of their rebuilding effort.

He has not only developed into one of the very finest hitters in the game, but Freeman has shown many times, from playing through injuries, begging to stay in the lineup rather than take a rest day or sit with a nagging ache, hit anywhere in the lineup, do any charity event or public appearance, make every newcomer feel welcome to the team, and on and on, that he is the perfect example for others to follow of a selfless player. A true team-first player, not just the cliche thrown around. And that is huge.

Freeman is not concerned whatsoever about how he might struggle defensively or look bad at third base, a position he played in high school and briefly in rookie ball, but a position that he has long since outgrown physically, at least in terms of it being a good fit.

Third base requires such different skills than first base, where Freeman has developed into a strong defensive player who makes it look easy scooping up short-hop throws, doing the splits to cut down the distance of a throw to first base to save a fraction of a split-second on a bang-bang play, or extended his full long-armed, 6-foot-5 frame to reach for a high throw, saving potential errors and preventing unearned runs.

At third base, he’ll have to react to a lot more sharply hit balls than he does at first base. He’ll have to race in to make one of the most difficult defense plays there is, fielding a bunt or slow grounder, bare-handed if necessary, and make a quick and strong throw to first to have any chance of catching the runner. He’ll have to make some of the longest and most difficult throws that any infielder ever has to make on those plays along the third base line or a few feet into foul territory when only the best third basemen are capable of throwing out a fast runner. Skills that third basemen develop through years of playing the position at the highest level, not after a month working out there for the first time in a decade.

But he’s willing to do it. More than willing, from what I understand. He wants to do it if that’s what gives the Braves their best chance to win.

And you know what? Now I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea. Might — I said might — even be good, as a temporary solution just for the remainder of this season.

Adams has done a terrific job filling Freeman’s shoes since the Braves’ franchise player fracture his wrist May 17 and went on the disabled list for what was initially expected to be about 10 weeks, and as far as we know still is going to be about that long. There has been nothing new to suggest it’ll be sooner or later than that). That would be late July or early August before he returns, enough time for Freeman to work out and play some minor league games at third base once he’s cleared for full baseball activities. He only started throwing again this week and hasn’t been cleared to do any hitting yet.

The Brave are just one game under .500 (16-17) since Freeman got hurt, when I was like so many others who thought it would be all but impossible for them to play anywhere near .500 ball without their best player. Much of the credit goes to Adams, who joined the lineup three days later after an astute trade by the Braves to get him from the Cardinals, who were using Adams as a bench player.

“Big City” has shown he ain’t no bench player. Or, at least he probably shouldn’t be. Adams has hit .296 with 10 homers, 27 RBIs and a .984 OPS in 29 games for the Braves, who are 14-15 in those games. He’s had six go-ahead RBIs and three game-winning RBIs for the Braves, and a bunch of other important hits.

]Adams isn’t a strong defensive first baseman, but his bat is going to help you a ton more than his glove is going to hurt you. And it’s the only position he can play; the Cardinals tried him in left field this spring and he was so shaky there that they decided to trade him even though he had power they could use and was quite popular in St. Louis with fans and teammates.

So here are the options for the Braves when Freeman returns, probably in late July or early August:

— Keep Adams and use him to solidify the bench and be a backup to Freeman, who might not be ready to play every day when he returns and could always have a setback; it is a hand/wrist injury, after all. Those can be quite tricky and nagging.

— Trade Adams before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He’s shown enough, it’s fair to say, that there are teams that might offer attractive young talent in return for a power-hitting first baseman or DH who has another season of arbitration eligibility in 2018 before he can be a free agent.

— Trade Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, move Adams to left field. If Markakis is traded, move Kemp to right. But that outfield defense might get ugly with Adams in left, and you’d be gambling that the power-laden lineup would offset the decline in defense. And if Kemp were traded, are you really any better offensively with Adams instead of Kemp in the lineup? Perhaps so, but marginally, and remember there’s at least a decent chance that Adams doesn’t produce at this same level offensively the rest of the way. Kemp and Markakis are integral parts of this Braves clubhouse mix each in his own way, and if the Braves hope to finish the season playing at a level close to .500 and sending the improved school’s-out summer crowds home happy and more likely to return, then they have to weigh whether what they might get in return for Kemp or Markakis is worth the potential fall-off in team performance.

— Move Freeman to the outfield. Bad idea, because he’s never played the outfield, for one thing. And because it would require trading either Kemp or Markakis to make it happen, and then the Braves would need to make sure they have someone to replace whichever one is traded next season, because Freeman certainly wouldn’t be staying in the outfield beyond this season. I don’t think this idea is really even being considered.

As you can see, none of the options is perfect. Some just don’t seem wise at all. But moving Freeman to third base on a temporary basis, for the rest of the season, might be a suitable solution, if he shows in the coming weeks that he can comfortably handle the position. And that would allow the Braves to decide in the offseason what to do with Adams, and in the winter they should be able to drive up the market and get more from him as multiple teams would want that bat at first base and would have time to make moves to create a spot for Adams, something that fewer teams would probably be able to do before July 31.

If they do it, it would allow the Braves to have a formidable middle of the order the rest of this season featuring Freeman, Kemp, Adams and Markakis, and Brandon Phillips batting second if they don’t trade him (but I think they will, because he’s in the last year of his contract and the Braves have Ozzie Albies penciled in for the future).

If Freeman was at all reluctant, I’d say no way, you don’t even think about asking him to move. But with him onboard and agreeable to the idea, that changes things entirely.

And if nothing else, this whole situation has underscored once again why the Braves love having Freeman as their franchise player, and why not just talent makes him special among the game’s elite players.

• Let’s close with this one from Jason Isbell off his terrific album The Nashville Sound that came out last week.

“HOPE THE HIGH ROAD” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell

I used to think that this was my town
What a stupid thing to think
I hear you’re fighting off a breakdown
I myself am on the brink

I used to want to be a real man
I don’t know what that even means
Now I just want you in my arms again
And we can search each other’s dreams

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

I heard enough of the white man’s blues
I’ve sang enough about myself
So if you’re looking for some bad news
You can find it somewhere else

Last year was a son of a bitch
For nearly everyone we know
But I ain’t fighting with you down in a ditch
I’ll meet you up here on the road

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in
To a world you want to live in