The Freddie Freeman of it All
The superstar first baseman did not want to be a Dodger. But you wouldn't know it by watching him play.
It’s taken me a while to write about this because, quite frankly, it’s one of the more bizarre baseball stories I can remember. When Freddie Freeman signed with the Dodgers in March for six years and $162 million, it looked like a win for both sides.
In Freeman, the Dodgers got the best left-handed bat on the free-agent market to replace the excellent left-handed bat they lost to the Rangers in Corey Seager. In the Dodgers, Freeman got the chance to sign with a championship contending team not far from where he grew up, and for more money and years than what the Atlanta Braves—the only team he’d ever played for—had offered him.
During his first three months with the Dodgers, the 32-year-old first baseman has hit the ball hard, over and over and over again. He ranks second in the NL with a .320 batting average, and third with a .398 on-base percentage. According to FanGraphs, he’s the seventh-best position player in all of baseball, worth 4.1 wins over replacement.
He’s coming off a four-game stretch in which he went 13-for-16 with 2 homers, 2 walks, and a hit by pitch. He’s been such a success with Dodger fans that they chant “Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!” nearly every time he steps up to bat, at both home and away games.
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And who can blame them? Freeman has been the best hitter on the best offense in the National League. He has picked up the slack while Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger have sputtered. His steady bat ensured the Dodgers didn’t lose ground in the NL West when star leadoff hitter Mookie Betts was sidelined with a cracked rib.
The Dodgers have been hammered by injuries this season unlike anything they’ve ever experienced during their past decade of dominance. Ace Walker Buehler will be out until late summer, if he returns at all. Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Heaney and half the bullpen have also spent significant time on the injured list. Muncy looks like he never fully recovered from tearing his UCL last fall.
None of this has mattered. The Dodgers are 58-30, and have built up a 9.5-game lead over the San Diego Padres heading into the final weekend before the All-Star break. Freeman is a huge part of why.
And yet. The drama surrounding his signing with the Dodgers is still so nuts that his now former agent, Casey Close, sued a radio host over this tweet about it yesterday:
In Gottlieb’s version of how Freeman wound up a Dodger, the Braves made one last push to sign their franchise player, but Close never presented it to Freeman. This tweet was offered as an explanation for why Freeman could not stop crying publicly when he returned to Atlanta for the first time to play a series there as a member of the visiting team last month. Freeman fired Close after that series, an indication that, regardless of how and why he ended up a Dodger, he was upset about how everything went down.
In his lawsuit, Close disputed Gottlieb’s tweet that he never told Freeman about the Braves’ final offer, and laid out a timeline of his negotiations with the team.
So if Close is telling the truth, the Braves never made a formal offer to their franchise player last offseason. Close is now suing Gottlieb because he says Gottlieb’s tweet may wind up costing him tens of millions of dollars in agent commissions due to his damaged reputation. Close said that in the wake of Gottlieb’s tweet, he has also received death threats from Braves’ fans.
I have no idea what the Braves offered Freeman or when. We reporters are rarely privy to all the details of mammoth contract negotiations, which makes this lawsuit potentially a rare window into how the free-agent sausage is made. But looking at all this from the outside, it seemed strange to me that Freeman, who so clearly and desperately wanted to stay in Atlanta, would be a member of any other team if the feeling had been mutual.
Even before we saw the numbers and the timeline that Close filed in his lawsuit, it sure seemed like Close’s version of events was the closest to the truth. It’s well within Freeman’s rights to fire his agent for any number of reasons, including that he didn’t like the way the negotiations—or lack thereof—went down. And given his tears in Atlanta, it’s obvious Freeman was traumatized by the free agency process.
The plot thickened when Freeman’s teammate Clayton Kershaw, also a Close client, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he hoped the Dodgers weren’t just a consolation prize for Freeman. “He’s obviously been a big contributor for our team, Kershaw said. “And I hope we’re not second fiddle. It’s a pretty special team over here, too. I think whenever he gets comfortable over here, he’ll really enjoy it.”
Kershaw and Freeman have since spoken about Kershaw’s comments, and the issue appears to be squashed (at least publicly).
I didn’t write about Kershaw’s comments at the time because I was trying to better understand both of their perspectives before I formed an opinion. Now I think they are both correct in their feelings: Freeman for being upset that the Braves let him go, and Kershaw for being frustrated at the idea that Freeman might not grow to love his new team enough move on.
These are human beings, after all, with dreams and triggers and egos and emotions, playing under a microscope. I loved that Freeman felt secure enough in himself to be a man who cries publicly when his emotions overcame him. Crying is healthy, and who wouldn’t feel like a hot mess running into their first love right after being broken up with? (Been there!) Stoicism is overrated. But because Freeman was so upset he couldn’t stop sobbing before his press conference even started, I worried that his trauma would become A Thing that could permeate into the Dodgers’ clubhouse and taint everything else.
The opposite has happened. While Freeman’s former agent was suing Gottlieb over this whole mess, Freeman was standing in the batter’s box at Busch Stadium in St. Louis looking like a hitter who was absolutely impossible to retire.
Here’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cardinals’ beat writer Derrick Goold:
Derrick Goold @dgooldThis seems to be the best time this week for the #stlcards to get Freddie Freeman out for the first time. #Dodgers #MLB #Cardinals
Maybe Freeman thrives during crises. This is a man who endured such a nasty case of COVID-19 back in 2020 that he prayed for his life, then he won the NL MVP months later. If he’s still upset with the Braves and/or Close, his play hasn’t been impacted by it at all. In fact, all the drama seems to have made him better: Freeman has raised his OPS by 40 points since that messy weekend in Atlanta, and the Dodgers have gone 13-4 in that span.
Maybe this is the hitter he always is, regardless of what’s happening off the field. Regardless, his ability to rake the pain away has been an unbelievable sight to behold. If this is how good he is when he’s sad, what will he do at the plate when he’s happy? I have no idea. I just know that regardless of whether the Dodgers were Freeman’s consolation prize or not, with the way he’s been playing he’s been worth every penny.
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