If and when the MLB lockout ends, the Atlanta Braves have a pivotal decision to make on franchise first baseman Freddie Freeman: do they pay the homegrown star top dollar or opt for a cheaper alternative? A trade for Oakland Athletics’ first baseman Matt Olson has been frequently mentioned as something the team may pursue if they don’t re-sign Freeman.

Keeping Freeman is the best-case scenario for the World Series champions. The next best scenario? It’s not trading for Olson: it’s signing free agent first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Here’s why the Braves should pivot to Rizzo instead of Olson if Freddie Freeman walks.

Anthony Rizzo still keeps the Atlanta Braves in contention

Yes, Rizzo has slumped a bit over the last two years, but he’s still one of the smoother first basemen in the sport. He’s a vacuum at the corner infield position, works the count and has considerable pop from the left side. Rizzo is accustomed to postseason play and being a linchpin for an MLB offense.

Furthermore, Rizzo would replace Freeman’s presence as a left-handed hitter in a right-handed heavy lineup. The former has found success hitting in both the top and middle part of an MLB order. Rizzo would do damage in either role with the Braves.

Rizzo joins a superb defensive infield which includes Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson. Rizzo is an optimum replacement for Freeman from a defensive standpoint, especially since he provides a veteran presence for an overall young infield — albeit they’re proven and reliable players themselves. He’s also the same age as Freeman, 32.

  • Anthony Rizzo stats (2021): .248/.344/.440, 22 home runs and 61 RBIs across 496 at-bats

The Braves are still an MLB contender with Rizzo. They have a sturdy infield, a highly productive outfield and a young, continually improving pitching staff from top to bottom.