There are mixed emotions and then there are what Atlanta Braves fans have been feeling since March 14. That of course is when the Braves announced they had traded for Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson, signaling the end of the Freddie Freeman era in Atlanta.
Freeman not re-signing with the Braves was like when that longtime couple in your friend group calls it quits. You just always assumed they’d be together — then they’re not and it’s a lot to process those first few months.
Sure, the Braves had not locked up Freeman long term the last two years and there were whispers they had a wandering eye for younger talent. Then there was the fact that Freeman grew up in California and spends his offseason there. The signs pointed to a potential breakup with Freeman ending up in Los Angeles.
Yet after a 2020 MVP campaign and then an improbable championship last fall, it seemed inconceivable that Freeman would not sign an extension to make him a Brave for life. In the end though, his agents rejected the Braves’ offer leading to Atlanta trading for the 28-year-old Olson.
Once the trade was announced the shock waves spread throughout Braves Country and the MLB as a whole. The first week was tense as not only did the Braves make the final move to call things off, but they announced an 8-year, $168 Million extension before Olson’s plane landed at Spring Training. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos had tears in his eyes and his voice cracked as he discussed the Olson trade. Because of MLB rules, Anthopoulos was unable to mention Freeman by name until he signed a 6-year, $162 Million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers four days later.
It was clear in his first public comments, that Freeman was hurt the Braves didn’t get things worked out. He would later apologize for some of the comments he made during his Dodgers introduction in a goodbye letter to Braves fans.
In the end, the Braves opened the door for Freeman’s exit when Liberty Media wouldn’t allow Anthopoulos to shell out the cash required to lock up the first baseman after the 2020 season. The parent company wanted to see how the club’s financials bounced back after the pandemic (spoiler alert they were great).
This winter Freeman was reportedly offered $135 million over five years, but with no sixth year on the deal the 32-year-old’s agents turned it down. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, on March 11 Freeman’s agents gave Anthopoulos an hour to choose between a six-year, $175 million or a five-year, $165 million deal. Anthopoulos declined both deals and with talks off by the two sides, Olson was a Brave by that Monday.
This is where the emotions get mixed up again for Braves’ fans, myself included. If Freeman truly wanted to only be back in Atlanta how does he allow his agents to not get the deal done and not push for more communication with the club? Anthopolulos also could have called Freeman directly at any point to see what could be done. However he has been adamant that he never operates that way.
Which is how we get to where are now. On Monday Freeman will play against the Braves for the first time in his career in L.A. He’ll return to Atlanta with the Dodgers in June and that’s when he’ll receive his World Series ring (his choice to wait and do it in front of his former home crowd).
Freeman has been his usual self this season, hitting .324 as the latest lethal weapon in the Dodgers’ arsenal. Olson — a Parkview High School (Lilburn, Ga.) grad — has been just as comfortable for Atlanta. On Sunday he collected two more hits against the Padres to raise his season average to .421.
Both the Braves and Freeman appear to be just fine in the long run after the shakeup. Still, it’s weird to see Freeman playing for the Dodgers after the intense postseason battles between the two sides the last few seasons. Making matters more complicated the Braves signed former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to an $18 million deal, to which LA responded to by trading for former Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.
Like all breakups, there is blame on both sides. Braves fans just feel stuck in the middle of a their team and one of the franchise’s great players. I’ll always have love for Freddie and what he did for Atlanta. I also think over the next five years Olson may end up being the best first baseman in baseball. So yeah, the emotions are still mixed for me and many Braves fans.
I hope Freddie has a great career, I just hope that he’s on vacation by the time Halloween rolls around for the next six years.