It is rare when a player changes agents right after signing a monster deal. But Freddie Freeman is seriously contemplating doing just that, and is actually expected to do so, as Buster Olney first reported.
Freeman obviously wasn’t happy to leave the Braves even if it meant going almost home to the Dodgers (he’s from The OC), and he originally blamed Braves management, which is very budget conscious despite being a huge moneymaker (they reportedly made $100 million profit in 2021), can be very corporate and doesn’t tend toward the warm or fuzzy. But as he’s gathered info about what went down, he now is at least partly blaming Excel, his longtime representatives. Another thing to wonder about: While it’s clear today Freeman badly wanted to stay, one has to wonder whether his agents received and understood that message? It’s up to Freeman to decide who deserves blame, but the Braves do not seem culpable here, based on what I’ve gathered either.
Here’s how the negotiations went, according to sources. For the record, Excel’s chief baseball agent Casey Close denied the story told here by others, saying by text it was “false,” without further elaboration.
In any case, Freeman himself believes the Braves tried harder than he previously thought (although from here, while their offers were comparable to the Dodgers’ deal, the Braves didn’t seem as anxious to keep the Braves legend as one might imagine). While he responded to the original report that he’s leaving Excel by saying the situation is “fluid,” the expectation is that he will indeed likely leave the agency.
No matter who you believe, something obviously went very wrong, as Freeman’s tears back in Atlanta told a tale. He seemed so upset to be gone that Hall of Fame bound Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw, who’s also repped by Excel, publicly hoped the Dodgers aren’t a “second fiddle,” reminded Freeman that the Dodgers are a “pretty special” team and suggested that he’d “really enjoy it once he gets comfortable over here.”
As for specifics, sources say the Braves offered $135 million for five years right after the trade deadline last summer, upping their original $125 million bid (matching another Excel client George Springer’s annual salary). While the Braves were only about .500 at the time, they decided to go above the $130 million Paul Goldschmidt deal, agreeing Freeman was the better player with an even greater résumé. At that time, Excel suggested the offer had to be for six years.
Then, after the lockout ended, Excel called the Braves on March 12 to give them a couple counteroffers, and let them know they needed an immediate response and needed to present their max offer, with the implication being that they were ready to move. That night, sources say Excel presented two options as “Braves prices,” which presumably meant a discounted deal for his favored team: $165 million for five years or $175 million for six. They also upped the urgency by telling the Braves they had exactly an hour to respond.
The Braves got back and said no thank you to Excel’s figures, but since they had to try something for an iconic Brave following the World Series win and end of the lockout, sources say they verbally upped their offer to $140 million for five. It wasn’t a huge increase for an iconic player, but Freeman’s reps could have countered at that point, and it’s hard to imagine the Braves wouldn’t have gone to at least $145 million considering his value to the franchise. Instead, sources say the talks appeared to end amicably, with the sides starting to talk about other Excel free agents, and the Braves believing the Freeman camp had something for $175 million-plus and were about to take it.
That’s when the Braves, apparently thinking Freeman must be close to a deal elsewhere, turned their attention to other options. They tried to engage Anthony Rizzo the next day, and got nowhere, as they were told Rizzo wanted to wait until after Freeman came off the board (he may also have preferred a return to the Yankees, where he soon landed). So Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos called A’s honcho Billy Beane on March 13 and made the trade for Matt Olson the next day. The Braves soon after announced a $168 million, eight-year deal, which shows how much they wanted him.
The first issue is that Freeman obviously didn’t end up where he wanted even though the Braves are said to have made two competitive offers.
The second is that he didn’t get a better deal in LA than the one the Braves are said to have offered. The $162 million over six years in LA is mitigated by an estimated $13 million tax increase in California versus Georgia, the $57 million in deferred monies in the LA deal for another estimated $13 million loss (the Braves weren’t deferring anything) and about $1 million more in commission to Excel considering the deal is $22 million more minus deferrals (assuming a 5 percent commission). So the estimated value of the Dodgers deal is about the same or slightly less, for one more year of play. In any case, at the very least, it appears the hand was overplayed in light of how badly Freeman obviously wanted to stay in Georgia.
Excel, the second biggest agency in the game and a huge success that’s handled Derek Jeter, Goldschmidt, Kershaw, Zack Greinke and many other stars and gotten many excellent contracts (i.e. $206.5 million for Greinke) is about to lose its second huge player right after getting big deals. Trevor Story left after his $140 million, six-year deal with the Red Sox. Even so, Excel presumably is due to collect about $15 million in commissions from the two deals.