Freddie Freeman’s lingering free agency saga is rife with tears, anger and blame

We are all suckers. The gone free agent is going back to where he started. Fans shower him with affection. Tears are shed, hugs exchanged. The passage of time makes the bittersweet moment less bitter, sweeter.

That’s what you thought you’d see when Freddie Freeman returned to Atlanta last weekend, right? Well, we now know that an undercurrent of anger fueled Freeman’s emotion, with the bitter rivaling, if not surpassing, the sweet.

Freeman’s decision to leave the Braves for the Dodgers was one of the most unfortunate free agent results in recent memory, and one that every party – the Braves, Freeman’s agents at Excel Sports Management, Freeman himself – bears responsibility.

The episode reflected on much of what is wrong with professional sports in the 21st century. Teams more concerned with payroll efficiency than loyalty to the players rewarding them. Agents more concerned with setting a financial standard than honoring their clients’ wishes. Fan favorites fly to other clubs because… well, why exactly?

Freeman’s decision to join the Dodgers on a six-year, $162 million free agent deal seemed unfortunate when it happened more than three months ago. It looked even worse over the weekend, when Freeman shed enough tears to water the playing surface at Truist Park for the next three months.

And surprisingly, 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 Syndicate only issues such orders at the request of a player. In such cases, the player generally wishes to avoid being inundated with calls or messages from his former agency, or other agents interested in representing him.

Several agents said Sunday night that Freeman decided to fire Excel. Freeman declined to comment. Athleticism on Sunday and again on Monday. Casey Close, Excel’s chief agent, did not respond to requests for comment.

ESPN reported on Tuesday that Freeman had left Excel, but Freeman has yet to publicly confirm, describing the situation as “fluid.” At this point, it would be a shock if Freeman stayed with the agency. Maybe he just isn’t ready, for some reason, to make the news official.

Freeman, 32, finally seems to realize he needs to move on, telling reporters on Tuesday, “there has to be a shutdown,” after told me in an interview for Fox Sports on Saturday, “I’m not looking to have a closure. I don’t want to shut down something that was so special to me for 15 years. But to borrow a term frequently invoked by players, all parties involved must “wear it”. One by one, here’s why:

The brave

Let’s start with Liberty Media ownership, which brought in $568 million in total revenue for the Braves for 2021, a season in which, uh, Freeman helped the team win its first World Series title in 25 years.

Liberty Media and the Blue Jays’ parent company, Rogers Communications, are the only two major league owners that, as publicly traded entities, must report their revenues. The Braves’ success, both on the field and in the Liberty-owned Battery development adjacent to Truist Park, spurred Liberty to set a second straight payroll record, rising from $131.4 million on Game Day. opening in 2021 at $177.8 million in 22.

So why draw the line with Freeman?

That pick, it seems, largely rested with president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos, who, despite Liberty’s recent largesse, isn’t running on unlimited resources. The Braves, even after increasing their payroll, only rank ninth among the majors. So when Anthopoulos in August 2021 offered Freeman a five-year, $135 million extension — $5 million more than the Cardinals gave arguably superior first baseman Paul Goldschmidt — he didn’t. I might not have been comfortable going much further. Whether he increased the offer to $140 million once Freeman was a free agent is in dispute.

My belief – and the belief of a number of baseball agents and executives – is that Anthopoulos preferred the case to play out precisely as it did, with the Braves trading for a more reasonable facsimile. Freeman’s younger and cheaper, Matt Olson. Is Olson as good as Freeman right now? Probably not. But his eight-year, $168 million contract covers his 28-35 seasons. Freeman’s deal with the Dodgers covers his campaigns from 32 to 37 years.

Olson cost the Braves four prospects in their trade to the Athletics, but his average annual value of $21 million left the team with more pay flexibility than Freeman would have at $27 million or $28 million. dollars per person. The Braves, who excel at scouting and player development, included receiver Shea Langeliers as a centerpiece of their A-deal, in part because they had another young receiver, William Contreras, emerging this season as a a potential star.

So Anthopoulos and the Braves could very well end up looking 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, precisely the kind of player who should spend his entire career with one team. If the Braves really wanted it, they didn’t push hard enough.

Excel

The emotions Freeman displayed in Atlanta showed he was sensitive. He said he made it clear to Excel early on in talks with the Braves that he wanted to stay in Atlanta. At this point, Excel’s mission should have been clear. Talk to other teams. Exert as much leverage as possible. But in the end, make the best possible deal with the Braves.

Freeman wanted six years guaranteed, or at least Excel wanted six years guaranteed for him. Excel can cite two top offers made by the low-income Rays, according to ESPN — six years, $140 million or seven years, $150 million — as evidence the Braves didn’t try hard enough. But Excel should have known his client and how he would react if he left the Braves. If Freeman’s overwhelming priority was being in Atlanta, nothing else should have mattered.

Excel will collect the commission on Freeman’s deal with the Dodgers, which, at baseball’s standard rate of 5%, would be $8.1 million over the course of the deal. Freeman’s loss, however, 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 six-year, $140 million contract with the Red Sox in a deal that became official on March 20, moved to Wasserman Baseball in late April.

Freeman had reason to trust Excel, who negotiated his eight-year, $135 million extension with the Braves in February 2014. The highly respected agency represents Hall of Famer Derek Jeter as well as 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.

Excel, however, should have anticipated Freeman’s reaction. The agency finally got a guaranteed sixth year from the Dodgers, but to what end? Freeman’s $162 million deal, given higher California tax rates and deferred payments in the contract, 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 is to prevent the agency from trumpeting his deal as its latest triumph.

Freddie Freeman

So who was running the show here, anyway? Freeman does not work for Excel; the agency works for him. And it’s Freeman’s fault, more than anyone else, that he didn’t end up exactly where he wanted to.

As much as he might have thought he had made his desires clear to Close and Victor Menocal, the Excel representative he usually communicated with, Freeman should have been more directly involved in the process. He is not the first player influenced by his agent to seek the biggest contract on the most comfortable landing spot. He also wouldn’t have been the first player to overturn his agent’s decision, even if it meant less money for both parties.

That said, Freddie worries too much.

The Dodgers weren’t exactly an unwanted landing spot for Freeman, who hails from Orange County in Southern California. Freeman and his wife, Chelsea, spent the offseason at their oceanfront home in Corona Del Mar, an hour from Los Angeles. And the team has made nine straight playoff appearances, an even more impressive run than the Braves’ four straight division titles.

Freeman, if he does indeed leave Excel, would not need an agent for contract negotiations until his current contract expires, and a lawyer or business manager can help him with endorsements and other questions. He’ll be fine, although no one should be surprised if his outpouring of emotion last weekend raised eyebrows among his new teammates.

Kershaw seemed to send a not-so-subtle message to Freeman, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I hope we’re not second fiddles. They’re a pretty special team here too. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, however, defended his new first baseman’s reaction by saying Athleticism Fabian Ardaya, “If anyone has a problem with that, it’s on them. That shouldn’t be a problem. This guy has helped us win a ton of games this year and will continue to do so.

Fair enough, but last weekend turned out to be less of a celebration and more of an awareness of all that went wrong. A player, a team and an agency, all accomplished, combined to produce an unfortunate and unnecessary result. Too bitter, not sweet enough.

(Freddie Freeman top photo: Bob Andres/Associated Press)

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