Dodgers introduce Freeman -- here's how they got there

March 19th, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Freddie Freeman arrived at Camelback Ranch just before 8 a.m. local time, sporting a tailored suit and a smile reminiscent of a kid getting ready for his first day of school.

As he walked into the Dodgers' facility for the first time, he was greeted by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts. His teammates welcomed him into the clubhouse, but not before playfully joking with him about his choice to wear a suit.

But as the day went on, Freeman sported a much more appropriate look. Friedman handed the first baseman a white Dodgers jersey with his trademark No. 5 and his last name. It became official. Freddie Freeman will be a Dodger for the next six seasons.

“When it came down to picking a team at the end, I have a 67-year-old dad and an 86-year-old grandfather that can now be able to watch me play every day,” said Freeman, who is from Southern California. “Being home and getting to play in front of my family, that’s what made me decide on the Dodgers.”

While Freeman ultimately chose the Dodgers, the process didn’t play out quite as he envisioned.

After celebrating a World Series title with the Braves last October, Freeman had almost no doubts. He was entering the winter as a free agent for the first time in his career. Despite not being able to agree on a contract extension with Atlanta, Freeman, like most people in baseball, nearly assumed that he would eventually find a way to sign a free-agent deal to stay there.

Freeman was the face of the franchise. He had been part of the Braves’ organization for 15 years, 12 of them in the Majors. Until Friday, it was the only organization Freeman had ever known. Nobody in the industry could’ve imagined that his last image in a Braves uniform would be him catching the last out of the World Series and raising both his arms up in the air.

But as communication lacked between Freeman and the Braves over the course of the offseason, the Dodgers began to lurk. Friedman made a call to Freeman’s representatives. Friedman and Roberts jumped on an hour-long Zoom call shortly after.

It was an easy conversation, according to Freeman. The Dodgers emphasized how much they value family, something that is important to Freeman. But as well as the initial conversation went, at this point in free agency, the Dodgers still felt there was no chance to steal Freeman from the Braves. Still, with Corey Seager off to the Rangers and with the possibility of adding a superstar to an already-stacked roster, they had to try.

“He spoke openly about his affinity for the team, the organization, the community [of Atlanta] and I know how they felt about him as well,” Friedman said. “I assumed that [him going back] would be the case. But, there are some things that play out during the course of a negotiation that sometimes play out in ways that you don’t expect.”

The recruitment of Freeman continued at Mookie Betts’ wedding on Dec. 1. With a lockout looming later that night, Friedman had an idea. He rallied Roberts and third baseman Justin Turner, who has been recruiting Freeman for years. They walked out of a live performance by rapper Nelly.

It was still a longshot in their minds, but they called Freeman 10 minutes before 9 p.m. PT, wanting to be the last team to chat with the superstar first baseman before communication between teams and players were prohibited.

“Hey, don’t forget about us,” Friedman told Freeman. “During this period, don’t forget about us.”

Once the lockout was lifted, Freeman said the possibility of leaving Atlanta became real. He said the Braves only contacted him twice during the entire process. Friedman, on the other hand, said the first call he made after the lockout was to Clayton Kershaw, who was also a free agent. His next call was to Casey Close, Freeman’s agent.

“Most teams didn’t think I was going to leave,” Freeman said. “It felt like they didn’t want to waste their time if I was just going to go back to the Atlanta Braves. That’s the first month. Then it was the lockout, so there was really nothing to worry about. Then when the lockout lifted, things moved fast.”

The Dodgers’ optimism grew significantly once the Braves completed a trade with the A’s to acquire first baseman Matt Olson. Twenty-four hours later, the Braves signed Olson to an eight-year deal. Freeman’s time with the Braves was effectively over that Monday afternoon.

Later that night was the first time the Dodgers truly felt they had a realistic shot at landing Freeman. On Tuesday, multiple teams were engaged in serious conversations with Freeman, creating some competition with the Dodgers. The Rays were among the teams in the mix, offering Freeman a six-year, $150 million deal, according to sources. Initially, the Dodgers started their pursuit of Freeman with a four-year offer. But once it became clear that the Dodgers could lock up Freeman with a six-year offer, Los Angeles delivered.

“After that door [with the Braves] was closed and a couple other teams with the Dodgers came in and were hot, it just came down to, you know what -- if I’m not going to be an Atlanta Brave,” Freeman told his wife, Chelsea, “I think it’s time to go home.”

A day later, the Dodgers and Freeman wrapped up the deal.

“The human, the family, talking to them and how much that came through, we couldn't be more excited to add him as a staple in our lineup for years to come,” said Friedman.

With Freeman in the fold, the Dodgers have one of the most potent lineups in recent memory. Eight of their nine projected starters in the lineup have at least one All-Star appearance. Will Smith, the lone player off that list, could well be poised to represent the Dodgers in the Midsummer Classic this season.

It wasn’t the journey or result Freeman -- nor the Dodgers -- expected. Freeman isn’t in North Port, Fla., taking part in Spring Training with the Braves. Instead, he’s at Camelback Ranch, a member of a new team for the first time in his career. And in about a month, Freeman will wear the home uniform of a team that plays about 45 minutes away from where he grew up.

“The last week, I think we’re all humans here, has been a whirlwind for all of us as a family,” Freeman said. “But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.”