This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.
When a team pulls off a blockbuster trade for an All-Star caliber team leader to complete what looks to be a playoff-contending roster, fans usually rejoice in the front office decision. When the Braves pulled the trigger on the Matt Olson trade, the hearts of Atlanta fans across the country sank to the ground instead.
General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta front office acquiring Olson symbolized the end of an era for the club, as it more or less confirmed that the face of the franchise Freddie Freeman would not be returning. The free-agent first baseman had long been in rumored talks with the Braves’ bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, but nothing had been confirmed prior to the trade with Oakland.
Initially, it seemed like an unfortunate but necessary development. Now, it feels like a slap in the face.
Recent articles and interviews have revealed that Freddie Freeman was stunned upon learning that the Braves completed the trade for his replacement. It seems clear that there was some disagreement between Anthopoulos and Freeman’s agents in negotiations.
“To be honest, I was blindsided," Freeman said at Spring Training after joining the Dodgers, according to The Athletic and others. "I think every emotion came across. I was hurt."
The same article cites that Freeman was apparently only contacted twice by the Braves during the entirety of his free agency. Buster Olney’s report notes that Freeman’s agents reportedly gave the Braves and Anthopoulos an ultimatum: they had an hour to accept either a six-year, $175 million deal or a five-year, $165 million deal.
With this information in mind, it’s hard not to feel conflicted and upset about the signing process.
The concept of a one-hour deadline between agent and GM borders on surreal, especially considering that most sources believe Atlanta would have gladly given Freeman as much as $150 million. But since his agents shut the door on the front office in Atlanta, the team’s fans are forced to shut the door on the face of their favorite team.
"I have no doubt, the Braves would've gone to 145 or 150," said former Braves star and Hall of Fame player Chipper Jones. Jones was Freeman’s chief mentor during his young years in Atlanta and one of his confidants during the free agency period.
"I'm not going to speak for Alex. I don't know the interactions between Alex and Excel. But somewhere in there was miscommunication, lack of communication, something…From my conversations with Freddie, he wanted to stay,” Jones said. “I'm just not so sure the way that he and his camp handled it was the way to make it happen."
Could the sting be any worse? An Atlanta legend was present for the debacle and even he said he thought Freeman would return, but the miscommunication likely cost the Braves another Hall of Fame candidate and franchise icon.
Freeman echoed Jones’ sentiments later as well. In a press conference with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Freeman spoke more to his emotions about leaving the Atlanta organization and joining his new team.
“I thought I was going to spend my whole career [with the Braves], but ultimately sometimes plans change, and plans did change,” Freeman stated in the press conference.
Though he was upset about the door closing on the Braves, Freeman said that after soaking in the news excitement started to creep in. He was, after all, returning to his home state of California.
“We wanted to come home when that door got closed,” Freeman said. “My family’s going to get to watch me play every day like fifteen years ago, so this is pretty special.”
Ultimately, it looks like Freeman comes out of the entire charade with a positive outcome: he gets to play ball at home and gets the sixth year he wanted on his contract at a good annual salary. Even with the fact that California taxes make the contract worth less than what the Braves offered him, he gets the benefits of location, family and time.
The fault of this deal appears to be on Freeman’s agents. While Anthopoulos and the Braves front office made a cold business move, it was one they only felt compelled to make because Freeman’s agents issued a ridiculous ultimatum at a time when there was no reason for dire actions.
While the consensus might be that Olson’s new extension secures a younger talent for longer (Olson is five years younger than Freeman), there will still be countless “what could have been” thoughts floating through the air in Atlanta for a number of years.
With fans heartbroken and Freeman himself seemingly confused, it seems that Freeman’s agents should probably be in a different line of work. When the dust settles, maybe fans can look back on the debacle and laugh… or maybe they won’t.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.