Freddie Freeman got what he wanted most . . . from the Dodgers. A sixth year on his next contract. The dollars are nothing to dismiss at $162 million total and $27 million annual value. And Freeman now has the pleasure of playing for the team stationed about an hour away from where he grew up in southern California.
The Dodgers weren’t the only team in play for Freeman if the Braves inexplicably and falsely decided they couldn’t afford to give him the sixth year he wanted. The Padres had eyes for him. So did the Blue Jays. So did the Red Sox. Aside from the benefits the Red Sox would have reaped from Freeman’s hitting and leadership style, there’d have been another mad fun factor.
The Yankees re-upped Anthony Rizzo after all on a fresh deal. Rizzo and Freeman have a long-standing friendship that translates now and then to deliciously hilarious moments on the field together. Especially Rizzo, sent to pitch to Freeman while the Braves were blowing the Cubs out last April, striking Freeman out swinging on five pitches in the bottom of the seventh last April.
The laughter between the pair was priceless. In the thick of the usual Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, it would have been much needed levity if the Yankees might be blowing the Red Sox out and Red Sox manager Alex Cora could have ordered Freeman to the mound to pitch to Rizzo; and, if Freeman could have exacted friendly revenge by striking Rizzo out.
So much for fields of dreams. Right now that sound you hear is Dodger fans crowing, “We had him all the way!” From the moment Freeman hit his first free agency after his Braves won last year’s World Series, you couldn’t swing a bat without it smashing into the hind quarters of a Dodger fan believing to his or her soul that a Dodger uniform would be the next wardrobe addition for the native of Villa Park, California, just a few miles east of Anaheim.
From the same moment, though, you couldn’t swing a bat with it smashing into the hind quarters of a Braves fan praying from his or her soul that the Braves, somehow, some way, would do right by the franchise face who’d done nothing but right by them from the moment he first turned up at first base in Braves’ silks.
Then, during the owners’ lockout, when Braves owner Liberty Media’s 2021 financials were released as mandatory for a publicly-traded corporation, you saw just the Braves’ considerable 2021 revenues and very considerable 2021 profit. And you realised any talk of the Braves being “unable” to afford to make Freeman a Brave for life was a shameless lie.
This Braves ownership couldn’t bring itself to do what a previous Braves ownership did whenever Hall of Fame third baseman/former franchise face Chipper Jones came to within striking distance of free agency, get him extended or signed to a coming new deal before he could hit the market, knowing Jones’s baseball heart remained with them.
This Braves ownership preferred to spend less on an import first baseman, four years younger than Freeman, dealing for him a day before extending him eight years and $168 million worth. Matt Olson won’t earn per season what Freeman will, and he may well shake out as essentially the Braves having swapped a Freeman for a Freeman Redux. May.
But the Braves’ corporate overlords sent the message clear enough and shameful enough: The only ones in baseball expected to be loyal are the players. Just the way they always were. This isn’t purely a free agency era thing, and anyone who says otherwise either needs a refresher in baseball history or is too willfully blind to allow it.
Have a good gander at the roll of Hall of Famers whose careers were entirely or mostly in the reserve era, the era before Andy Messersmith finally finished in 1975 what Curt Flood began in 1970. Those would be players elected before 1980. There are 127 of them. Now: 89 played for two teams at minimum; fourteen played for five teams at minimum. That would leave you with (count them) 24 single-team Hall of Famers from the reserve era.
Let’s look at the Hall of Famers elected after 1980, men whose careers careened into the free agency era or who played all or most of their careers during the era. There are sixteen such single-team Hall of Famers—including Jones. The free agency era has yet to surpass the reserve era for length, so it’s fair to say that both eras sent an equivalent portion of single-team players to Cooperstown.
What Joe and Jane Fan and no few writers (who really ought to know better) still forget is that, during the reserve era, players had absolutely no say in where they played, and owners could and did trade or sell them at will, and not always for reasons that made purely baseball sense.
Fans and writers alike have broadened their view in recent times, appropriately. You could see more than the fans and writers fuming over the owners’ lockout before it was finally resolved and baseball could get back to the serious work of play.
You could see them fume over the prospect that the Braves would do exactly as they did, declaring expendable the guy who stayed the course from the lows to the competitive highs, all the way to their first World Series triumph since the Clinton Administration. If the Braves wouldn’t give Freeman the sixth year he wanted, the Dodgers were only too willing.
That’s going to be some packed Dodger lineup coming your way. With a small pack of All-Stars including five-timer Freeman. With a small pack of MVP winners, including Freeman, apparently resurgent Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts. With Trea (The Slider) Turner acquired at last year’s trade deadline now able to play his natural position at shortstop following Corey Seager’s free agency departure to Texas. With aging but still effective future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw re-upping for 2022 at least.
If Olson gives the Braves both solid performance on the field and at the plate, and proves to be a solid clubhouse presence, that might take some of the sting of losing Freeman away. Some. Olson knows he might “succeed” Freeman without truly “replacing” him. Returning Ronald Acuna, Jr. knows he, too, might “succeed” Freeman as the Braves’ face without truly replacing him.
But if the Dodgers tangle with the Braves in the postseason to come, the Braves may learn the hard way what their ownership’s concept of “loyalty” can cost in more ways than one. May.