VENICE, Fla. — Freddie Freeman’s name did not appear in the Atlanta Braves’ megadeal on Monday. Standing in front of the microphones, general manager Alex Anthopoulos refused to even say so.
The tears welling up in Anthopoulos’ eyes explained everything.
Freeman’s tenure with the Braves appears to be over after the World Series champions acquired All-Star first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics, a franchise-altering deal that cost a bundle of four players, including young outfielder Cristian Pache.
Freeman was the 2020 NL MVP and five-time All-Star in 12 seasons with Atlanta, and his outspoken leadership proved critical to last year’s championship team. He became a free agent after the season, but even then, it was hard to imagine that Brave, who has been a career-best throughout his career, wouldn’t return.
He did not sign until the rosters froze on December 2 in a labor lockout that lasted 99 days. When the rosters were unlocked on Thursday, reports indicated the big-money Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees were eagerly chasing the left-handed slugger.
Anthoploulos said it became clear to him on Sunday night that Freeman would not return. At that point, he went full steam ahead after Olson.
“One of the best first basemen in the game,” Anthopoulos said of Olson.
He repeatedly declined to discuss Freeman, who is still a free agent. Still, he admitted he’s never had such a hard time emotionally pulling the trigger on a trade.
“You get attached,” he said.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was speaking to reporters when ESPN broke the news. He said it was the first he had heard of the trade.
“He’s been our man for several years,” Snitker said of Freeman. “Personally, he meant a lot to me.”
Snitker, 66, already knows Olson, who grew up about 40 minutes east of Atlanta’s Truist Park in Lilburn, Georgia. Snitker said they worked on several youth baseball camps together.
Olson is a two-time Golden Glove winner with a .252 career average, 142 home runs and an .859 OPS over six seasons. The 27-year-old hit 39 homers and had 111 runs last season, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting. It is under the control of the team until 2023.
Amid rumors of an upcoming takedown in Oakland, Olson said he thinks a trade could happen. He is happy to land near his home.
“Obviously I know Atlanta,” Olson said. “It’s an amazing place, World Series champions, my hometown. If there was one place to go and go from here, this is the place to do it. I’m excited about it.
Freeman was revered by fans and teammates in Georgia. On Sunday, Braves pitcher Charlie Morton said if Freeman returns, he expects the left-handed slugger to one day see his picture taped into the team’s spring training complex, just like the heroes of the Chipper Jones and Hank Aaron franchise.
“He’s going to be one of the guys with his number retired and a Braves legend, not to say he isn’t already, because I think he is,” Morton said.
A career .295 hitter, Freeman has hit 20 home runs eight times with a career-high 38 in 2019. Freeman has two 100 RBI seasons on his resume and three more years where he completed more than 90 runs. He won the NL MVP award in 2020, finished in the top 10 in polling five other times, in addition to winning three Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove for his defensive work.
But Freeman’s importance to the organization goes beyond his impressive stats. He was the undisputed leader of the clubhouse and the face of the franchise for Braves fans, who implored him to stay with the team.
“He’s going to be a good friend for the rest of my life,” Snitker said Sunday. “No matter what happens professionally, I love the guy.”
Freeman batted .304 with five homers, 11 RBIs and a postseason final of 1.045 OPS, when Atlanta won its first title since 1995. As the Braves celebrated their championship at Minute Maid Park, Freeman made it clear that he wanted to stay in Atlanta.
“It’s a crazy game, a crazy business,” he said. “But everyone knows where my heart is.”
National League adopts designated hitter from 2022. Marcell Ozuna, a mediocre player, is expected to be the Atlanta DH now that his 20-game ban under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy has ended .
Pache became close friends with Atlanta star Ronald Acuña Jr., another loss likely to rock the Braves clubhouse. A stellar defensive center fielder, Pache, 23, struggled to hit in the majors, batting .111 in 22 games last season. He and Acuña drove to Braves camp on Sunday in matching, shiny SUVs.
“My heart is broken,” Pache tweeted. “I just found out I was traded to the A’s. I know that’s how it works, but I want the Braves fans to know that I will be forever grateful to him wherever he goes. Thank you for so much support, for so much love and for being so special to me.
Oakland also receives minor league catcher Shea Langeliers and right-handers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes. Langeliers was ranked Atlanta’s second prospect by Baseball America, one spot ahead of Pache, with Cusick ninth and Estes 14th.