We are all suckers for it. The departed free agent returns to where he started. Fans shower him with affection. Tears flow, hugs are exchanged. The passage of time makes the bittersweet moment less bitter, more sweet.
You thought you saw that when Freddie Freeman returned to Atlanta last weekend, right? Well, we now know that an undercurrent of anger fueled Freeman’s emotion, rivaling the bitter, perhaps even surpassing, the sweet.
Freeman’s decision to leave the Braves for the Dodgers was one of the most regrettable free-play results in recent history, and one for which each side – the Braves, Freeman’s agents at Excel Sports Management, Freeman himself – bears responsibility.
The episode reflected much of what is wrong with professional sports in the 21st century. Teams that are more concerned with pay efficiency than showing loyalty to players who rewarded them. Agents are more concerned with setting a financial standard than meeting the needs of their customers. Fan favorites are shooting for other clubs because… well, why exactly?
Freeman’s decision to join the Dodgers on a six-year $162 million free agent contract seemed unfortunate the moment it happened more than three months ago. Things looked even worse over the weekend, when Freeman shed enough tears to irrigate the playing surface in Truist Park for the next three months.
And unbelievably, the saga is still not over.
On Sunday night, during ESPN’s broadcast of the Dodgers-Braves series finale, all baseball agents received a “Do not contact Freddie Freeman” email from the Major League Baseball Players Association. The association issues such orders only at the request of a player. In such cases, the player generally wants to avoid being inundated with phone calls or messages from his previous agency or other agents who want to represent him.
Multiple officers said Sunday night that Freeman had decided to fire Excel. Freeman declined to comment on the athletic on Sunday and again on Monday. Casey Close, the senior agent at Excel, did not respond to requests for comment.
ESPN reported Tuesday that Freeman had left Excel, but Freeman still would not confirm publicly, describing the situation as “fluent”. At this point, it would be a shock if Freeman stayed with the agency. Maybe he’s just not ready, for whatever reason, to make the news official.
Freeman, 32, finally seems to understand he must move on, telling reporters on Tuesday: “There must be a shutdown,” after tells me in an interview for Fox Sports on Saturday: “I’m not looking for a closure. I don’t want to close something that was so special to me for 15 years.” But to borrow a term often invoked by players, all parties involved have to “wear it.” One by one, here’s why:
Let’s start with the Liberty Media property, which reported $568 million in total Braves revenue for 2021, a season where, ahem, Freeman helped lead the team to its first World Series title in 25 years.
Liberty Media and the Blue Jays parent company, Rogers Communications, are the only two major league properties that, as publicly traded entities, are required to report their earnings. The success of the Braves, both on the field and in the development of Battery, owned by Liberty, adjacent to Truist Park, led Liberty to set a second consecutive salary record, from $131.4 million on opening day in 2021 to $177. .8 million in ’22.
So why draw the line with Freeman?
That choice seemed to rest largely with the president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, who, despite Liberty’s recent generosity, doesn’t operate with unlimited resources. The Braves are only ninth in the majors even after their pay rises. So when Anthopoulos offered Freeman a five-year extension worth $135 million — $5 million more than the Cardinals gave to an arguably superior first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt — in August 2021, he may not have felt comfortable going much further. to go. Whether he raised the offer to $140 million when Freeman was a free agent is up for debate.
My belief—and the belief of a number of baseball cops and executives—is that Anthopoulos preferred to play things out exactly like this, swapping the Braves for a younger, cheaper, reasonable facsimile of Freeman, Matt Olson. Is Olson as good as Freeman now? Probably not. But his eight-year $168 million contract covers his age from 28 to 35 seasons. Freeman’s deal with the Dodgers covers his campaigns aged 32 to 37.
Olson cost the Braves four prospects in their profession with the Athletics, but his $21 million average annual net worth gave the team more payroll flexibility than Freeman would have at $27 million or $28 million each. The Braves, who excel in scouting and player development, had catcher Shea Langeliers at the center of their deal with the A’s, in part because they had another young catcher, William Contreras, who is emerging as a potential star this season.
So Anthopoulos and the Braves could very well look smart. Their fans had no problem embracing Olson, who grew up in Lilburn, Georgia. But Freeman was an immensely popular homegrown talent, a worthy heir to Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, exactly the kind of player who should spend his entire career with one team. If the Braves really wanted him, they weren’t pushing hard enough.
The emotions Freeman showed in Atlanta made it clear that he is sensitive. He said he had made it clear to Excel from the beginning of the discussions with the Braves that he wanted to stay in Atlanta. At that point, Excel’s mission should have been clear. Talk to other teams. Use as much leverage as possible. But in the end make the best deal possible with the Braves.
Freeman wanted six guaranteed years, or at least Excel wanted six guaranteed years for him. Excel can point to two superior low-income Rays offers, according to ESPN — six years, $140 million or seven years, $150 million — as proof that the Braves haven’t put in enough effort. But Excel should have known his customer and how he would react if he left the Braves. If Freeman’s overwhelming priority was in Atlanta, nothing else would have mattered.
Excel will collect the commission on Freeman’s deal with the Dodgers, which at the standard baseball rate of 5 percent over the course of the deal would be $8.1 million. However, Freeman’s loss would mark the second high-profile departure of a newly signed free agent client from the agency in the past two months. Second baseman Trevor Story, who signed a $140 million six-year contract with the Red Sox in a deal that went official on March 20, transferred to Wasserman Baseball in late April.
Freeman had reason to trust Excel, which negotiated its $135 million eight-year extension with the Braves in February 2014. The highly respected agency represents Hall of Famer Derek Jeter and a number of current stars, including Goldschmidt, Clayton Kershaw, Kyle Schwarber, George Springer and — ahem — current Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, who is in his walking year.
However, Excel should have anticipated Freeman’s response. The agency eventually got a sixth guaranteed year from the Dodgers, but for what purpose? Given higher California tax rates and deferred payments in the contract, Freeman’s $162 million deal could be comparable in net worth to the $135 million the Braves are known to have offered. And according to sources, one of Freeman’s motivations for leaving Excel would be to prevent the agency from trumpeting his deal as its last triumph.
So, who actually ran the show here? Freeman does not work for Excel; the agency works for him. And it’s Freeman’s fault, more than anyone else’s, if he didn’t end up exactly where he wanted to.
As much as he thought he was making his wishes clear to Close and Victor Menocal, the Excel representative with whom he usually communicated, Freeman should have been more directly involved in the process. He’s not the first player influenced by his agent to seek the biggest contract over the most comfortable landing spot. He also wouldn’t have been the first player to overrule his agent, even if it meant less money for both sides.
That said, Freddie worries too much.
The Dodgers weren’t exactly an unwanted landing place for Freeman, who hails from Orange County in Southern California. Freeman and his wife, Chelsea, have spent the off-season at their oceanfront home in Corona Del Mar, an hour from LA. And the team has made nine consecutive appearances after the season, an even more impressive streak than the Braves’ four consecutive division titles.
Freeman, if he does leave Excel, wouldn’t need an agent for contract negotiations until his current deal expires, and a lawyer or business manager can help him with approvals and other matters. He will be fine, although no one should be surprised if his outpouring of emotions last weekend raised eyebrows among his new teammates.
Kershaw seemed to be sending a not-so-subtle message to Freeman, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I hope we’re not second fiddle. It is also a very special team here.” However, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts defended his new first baseman’s response, saying: The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya: “If anyone has a problem with it, it’s their own fault. It shouldn’t be a problem. This man has helped us win so many games this year and will continue to do so.”
True, but last weekend turned out to be less of a celebration than an awareness of everything that went wrong. A player, team and agency, all passed, combined to produce an unfortunate and unnecessary outcome. Too much bitter, too little sweet.
(Freddie Freeman top photo: Bob Andres/Associated Press)