With Freeman a free agent, Braves get star 1B Olson from A’s

Published 11:50 pm Monday, March 14, 2022

By Jake Seiner
AP Baseball Writer

VENICE, Fla. — Freddie Freeman’s name wasn’t in the Atlanta Braves’ megadeal Monday. Standing in front of microphones, general manager Alex Anthopoulos refused even to say it.

The tears welling in Anthopoulos’ eyes explained it all.

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 prize package of four players, including young outfielder Cristian Pache.

Freeman was the 2020 NL MVP and a five-time All-Star over 12 seasons with Atlanta, and his outspoken leadership proved critical on last year’s championship team. He became a free agent after the season, but even then, it was hard to imagine the career-long Brave wouldn’t return.

He didn’t sign before rosters froze Dec. 2 as part of a labor lockout that stretched 99 days. When rosters unlocked Thursday, reports indicated the big-money Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Yankees were hotly pursuing the left-handed slugger.

Anthoploulos said it became clear to him Sunday night that Freeman wasn’t coming back. At that point, he went full-steam after Olson.

“One of the best first baseman in the game,” Anthopoulos said of Olson.

He declined repeatedly to discuss Freeman, who is still a free agent. Still, he admitted he’s never had a tougher 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 was hearing of the trade.

“He’s been our guy for a number of years,” Snitker said of Freeman. “Personally, he’s meant a lot to me.”

The 66-year-old Snitker already knows Olson, who grew up about 40 minutes east of Atlanta’s Truist Park in Lilburn, Georgia. Snitker said they have worked several youth baseball camps together.

Olson is a two-time Gold Glove winner with a .252 career average, 142 homers and an .859 OPS over six seasons. The 27-year-old hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs last season, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting. He’s under team control through 2023.

Amid rumors of a coming teardown in Oakland, Olson said he thought a trade might happen. He’s happy to land close to home.

“Obviously, I know Atlanta,” Olson said. “It’s an amazing place, World Series champs, my hometown. If there was one place to go and leave here, that’s the place to do it. I’m excited about it.”

Freeman has been revered by fans and teammates in Georgia. On Sunday, Braves pitcher Charlie Morton said that if Freeman returned, he expected the left-handed slugger would one day have his photo plastered across the team’s spring training complex, just like franchise heroes Chipper Jones and Hank Aaron.

“He’s going to be one of the guys with his number retired and a Braves legend, not to say he’s not already, because I think he is,” Morton said.

A career .295 hitter, Freeman surpassed 20 homers eight times with a career-high 38 in 2019. Freeman has a pair of 100-RBI seasons on his resume, and three other years where he drove in more than 90 runs. He won the NL MVP award in 2020, finished in the top 10 of the balloting five other times, in addition to claiming 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 unquestioned leader in the clubhouse and the face of the franchise to Braves fans, who implored him to stay with the team.

“He’s going to be a good friend the rest of my life,” Snitker said Sunday. “Regardless of what happens professionally, I love the guy.”

Freeman batted .304 with five homers, 11 RBIs, and a 1.045 OPS last postseason, when Atlanta won its first title since 1995. As the Braves celebrated their championship at Minute Maid Park, Freeman made it clear he wanted to stay in Atlanta.

“This is a crazy game, a crazy business,” he said. “But everyone knows this where my heart is.”

The National League is adopting the designated hitter beginning in 2022. Poor-fielding Marcell Ozuna is expected to be Atlanta’s DH now that his 20-game ban under the Major League Baseball domestic violence policy has ended.

Pache has become a close friend of Atlanta star Ronald Acuña Jr., another loss likely to shake the Braves’ clubhouse. A stellar defensive center fielder, the 23-year-old Pache has struggled to hit in the majors, batting .111 in 22 games last season. He and Acuña pulled into Braves camp Sunday in matching, glitzy-gold SUVs.

“My heart is broken,” Pache tweeted. “I just found out that I was traded to the A’s. I know that’s the way this business works, but I want Braves fans to know that I will be eternally 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 as Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect by Baseball America, one spot ahead of Pache, with Cusick ninth and Estes 14th.