The guess here is that Freddie Freeman will become an Atlanta Brave sometime Wednesday, as opposed to waiting until Gwinnett’s season ends Sept. 6. Frank Wren suggested as much Saturday, telling esteemed colleague Carroll Rogers: “We want to be at full strength as soon as we can. Every game is important. You never know when a game could hinge on a player you want to bring up.”
The guess here is that Freddie Freeman will arrive not as the new starting first baseman — the Braves already have a new starting first baseman; his name is Derrek Lee — but as a bench player, a pinch-hitter, a guy who might deliver the same sort of race-changing hit that Ryan Klesko, another September call-up, did 17 years ago.
Sept. 15, 1993: The Braves trailed Cincinnati 6-2 headed to the bottom of the ninth. Damon Berryhill led off with a double. Chipper Jones, another September summons, struck out as a pinch-hitter. Then Klesko, pinch-hitting for Ramon Caraballo (remember him), drove a pitch from Johnny Ruffin over the right-field fence. That made it 6-4. The Braves would win three batters later when Ron Gant, facing Rob Dibble, hit a liner that kissed the top of the left-field wall and skipped over.
In a race decided by one game (and with no wild card back then), Klesko’s swing was immense. But that didn’t mean he was an integral part of that September. He was a young guy waiting his turn, and the Braves had already traded for a first baseman of considerable portfolio. His name: Fred McGriff.
No, I’m not trying to suggest that Lee has or will contribute to the 2010 Braves in the way McGriff did in ‘93, and yes, I’m aware that Klesko eventually moved into the lineup as a left fielder. What I’m saying is that the Braves will be happy if Freeman comes here and does one or two good things and leaves the heavy lifting to the veterans.
Consider the case of Jason Heyward, Freeman’s minor-league roommate and big buddy: The Braves were in a race for the wild card last fall and resisted the urge to rush Heyward to the majors at age 20. Freeman is likewise 20, but his September promotion wouldn’t be a rush job: Unlike Heyward, he has had a full season in Class AAA. Freddie’s just about ready. Just about.
The Braves are trying everything to fend off the Phillies. They traded for Alex Gonzalez, which seemed a good idea, and for Lee, which was almost a necessity given the trials of Troy Glaus and the loss of Chipper. They traded for Rick Ankiel, which was worth a shot. (For reasons unclear, Kyle Farnsworth was also part of the deal.) That said …
As eager as they are to win in 2010, the Braves are likewise loath to do anything to jeopardize 2011 and beyond. They traded for Lee because they didn’t want to plop a 20-year-old into the midst of a pennant drive and say, “OK, kid. Win this for us.” Unless Lee proves a complete dud — and he is only 4-for-29 as a Brave — he’ll be the starter. If Lee fails, the Braves will turn again to Troy Glaus. If that fails …
Well, then there’s Freddie. But that’s still a long way off.
And yes, there’s a chance Freeman could partake of the postseason. He doesn’t have to be on the 25-man or the 40-man roster by midnight on Aug. 31. (That rule was changed a while back.) He only has to be in the organization. But it’s worth noting that Klesko wasn’t included on the postseason roster in 1993, nor was Chipper. Come the crunch, teams always err on the side of seasoning. And Lee and Glaus have both played on World Series winners, Glaus being the MVP of the Rally Monkey Fall Classic in 2002.
Freddie Freeman should have a long run as the starting first baseman, but that time is not yet at hand. He figures to be an Atlanta Brave before the week is done, but don’t count on seeing him play much just yet.