Freddie Freemans offensive onslaught is now on hold.
The Atlanta Braves superstar first baseman suffered a fracturedleft wrist after being hit by a pitch on Wednesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, per FOX Sports MLB insider Ken Rosenthal. (The club has yet to confirm the diagnosis.) Freeman is expected to miss at least eight weeks, a projected recovery timeline sidelining him until mid-July at the earliest.
Freeman suffered the injury on a high-and-tight fastball running 94 miles per hour from Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup that ricocheted off the heel of his left hand, letting out an audible scream on contact and slowly walking out of the batters box toward the Braves dugout. He did not even attempt to grip the bat in the aftermath. As Braves manager Brian Snitker said of his stars immediate exit, He couldnt swing the bat. Freeman quietly set his batting helmet down and walked into the tunnel with trainer Jim Lovell.
X-rays were initially inconclusive, though looming concerns were palpable from the beginning. On Thursday, an MRI scan confirmed Freeman had suffered the second significant wrist injury of his young career. The injury will not require surgery, though Freeman will wear a cast.
And just like that, one of the sports top players exits stage right for, at best, two months.
There are no contingency plans for losing superstars in their primes.
Atlanta entered the 2017 season with one irreplaceable asset, a player that no internal spare part could replicate. The Braves were equipped to handle the loss of pitchers, catchers, other infielders and, to a lesser extent, outfielders without the threat of a significant decline from preseason expectations. Freeman, on the other hand, stood alone. The 27-year-old first baseman left Wednesdays game as baseballs most productive hitter since the 2016 trade deadline. Over the past calendar year, only Mike Trout, the sports undisputed king for six years running, has posted better offensive numbers.
Thirty-seven games does not write an MVP resume in ink, but the best start of Freemans career coupled with his ascendant reputation around the league positioned him for the first legitimate run of his career. The two-time All-Star is hitting .341/.461/.748 with 14 home runs and 2.6 wins above replacement this season a rate that more than doubled the league average and buoyed the hopes of a rebuilding franchise currently sitting in second place in the National League East.
Depending on the accuracy of Freemans recovery timeline, all of that could be thrown out the window.
Since the start of the 2014 season, Freeman has missed 47 total games. The Braves have averaged just 3.1 runs per game with a 20-27 overall record in his absence.
Atlantas farm system is structured around Freemans availability. There are no top prospects pushing for MLB playing time. Not a single first baseman landed on the organizations top prospect lists this past offseason. The teams most productive minor-leaguers at first base considering the likes of Austin Riley, Brett Cumberland or Braxton Davidson have yet to make the potential position change are lower-ceiling players stationed at Double-A or lower. Four players have played first base for Triple-A Gwinnett this season, including recently released Ryan Howard, and each hit 25 percent belowthe International Leagueaverage or worse.
(The wrist injury doubles down on how much versatile free-agent signing Sean Rodriguez is missed this season in Atlanta. The veteran utility option, who will more than likely miss the entire 2017 season after suffering multiple injuries in an offseason car accident, is better than any option the organization is likely to find in its system or on the open market.)
The Braves will likely need to look outside the system to find a passable replacement in Freemans absence assuming the team hesitates on going into full sellers mode this early in the season while sitting closer to the first-place Washington Nationals than any other NL East rival. In the meantime, Nick Markakis, Jace Peterson, (presently injured) Adonis Garcia or third-base prospect Rio Ruiz could step into the void.
The fact that Freeman returns to the disabled list with another wrist injury only adds to the frustration. Freeman missed 44 games and took two trips to the disabled list during the summer of 2015 with right wrist complications. Wrist injuries, which can affect grip strength, tend to linger. Freeman underwent multiple cortisone injections in his wrist and hand in 2015 and the subsequent offseason, even entering the 2016 spring training on a limited hitting regimen.
How Freeman's wrist responds to treatment this time around remains to be seen. Until then, one of baseball's brightest stars will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.