Way back when the dawn of time happened to coincide with the start of Major League Baseball's 2021-22 offseason, it seemed safe to take it for granted that Atlanta woudn't let superstar first baseman Freddie Freeman leave as a free agent.

Yet this didn't happen before MLB's owners locked out the players on Dec. 2, and the mood surrounding Freeman's potential reunion with Atlanta has only shifted further toward skepticism. 

On Tuesday, ESPN's Buster Olney wrote of a "growing belief" within baseball that Freeman won't re-up with the only organization he's known since he began his professional career in 2007. This is a week after Chipper Jones, Freeman's friend and a fellow Atlanta legend, also cast doubt on the team's likelihood of retaining him during a radio interview.

Granted, the 32-year-old Freeman literally can't sign elsewhere until there's a new collective bargaining agreement and the lockout is lifted. And even then, Freeman departing from Atlanta will hardly be a fait accompli.

In the meantime, though, all this chatter is about as unsurprising as it must be disappointing for Atlanta fans.


Atlanta Doesn't Want to Take a Risk Worth Taking

In fairness to Atlanta, maybe the team thinks it's already done the best deal it's ever going to do with Freeman.

Though he was only 24 years old at the time, he was already established as one of baseball's top first basemen when he inked an eight-year, $135 million extension in February 2014. So it went between then and 2021 as he posted a .300/.394/.526 slash line, 203 home runs and the second-most WAR among first basemen behind Paul Goldschmidt.

Freeman's high point? Individually speaking, it was surely when he won the National League MVP in 2020. More broadly, it's hard to top him spearheading last year's championship run with a 1.045 OPS and five homers throughout the playoffs.

It is, of course, impossible to quantify how much Freeman endeared himself to the organization and the city of Atlanta. But if there's a moment that sums it up, it's when Dansby Swanson earned raucous cheers during Atlanta's World Series celebration last November by publicly pleading with the team to re-sign Freeman.

The man himself, meanwhile, never gave off the impression that he wanted out. On the contrary, Freeman was vocal about wanting to stay. Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos reciprocated in November, right around the time when he promised the team's payroll would increase in 2022.

Just not enough, apparently, to satisfy Freeman's demands for his next contract.

As reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today in November, the slugger wants something in the range of six years and $200 million. That's one more year and many more dollars over the five-year, $135 million offer that Atlanta put forward.

The $30 million-plus per year that Freeman wants is more or less the going rate for superstars these days. Atlanta's offer, though, is basically a carbon copy of what Goldschmidt got from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019. In and of itself, that he was a year younger than Freeman is now is arguably justification enough for Atlanta's relative stinginess.

Further, stars like Freeman historically haven't aged well. He's one of 22 modern first basemen to produce at least 40 WAR through their age-31 seasons. Of the other 21, only nine managed so much as 15 WAR from their age-32 season onward. Out of the other 12, by far the scariest cautionary tale is Albert Pujols.