Freddie Freeman’s a Dodger. I understand it, but I hate it

Freddie Freeman and the Dodgers will play the Braves in two series in the regular season, one in Atlanta and one in L.A. AJC file photo



Freddie Freeman and the Dodgers will play the Braves in two series in the regular season, one in Atlanta and one in L.A. AJC file photo

I stopped rooting for the Reds – Maysville, Ky., is just up the mighty Ohio from Cincinnati – because they made one of the great trades in baseball history. I didn’t care that they landed Joe Morgan, who would win consecutive MVPs. All that mattered to me was that they traded Lee May.

May was the first baseman in the initial manifestation of the Big Red Machine. I knew the Reds had better players – Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, maybe Bobby Tolan. I liked them, too. I liked May more. He was the Big Bopper from Birmingham. If you care to check, he led the 1971 Reds in WAR, though back then War was a silly card game nobody ever won. (You’ll also note that 1971 was the Reds’ one bad season of the era.)

For a year, I hated the Reds. I rooted against them – I pulled for Oakland, the team of long hair and mustaches – in the 1972 World Series. The Reds had traded my guy.

I’m rather older now. I don’t really root for any team anymore. (Except Manchester United, which is driving me CRAZY.) I can explain, sort of, why Freddie Freeman is a Dodger, as if the Dodgers needed another MVP-caliber player. That doesn’t mean anybody wants to hear my spiel. Actual quote from my wife Thursday morning, when told that the Dodgers are paying Freeman $162 million: “Isn’t that what they’re paying the guy they got?”

It’s a tad less, I said, though the guy they got – name of Matt Olson – signed for eight years, as opposed to Freddie’s six. “Technically,” I said, “the annual asset value of Freeman’s contract is …”

That’s as far as I got. She doesn’t care about AAV or contractual years or any darn thing. Maybe, probably, you don’t, either. Freddie Freeman, face of the franchise, is gone.

That the Braves traded half their farm system to Oakland for Olson 60-some hours before the Freddie-to-L.A. news broke confirms what we suspected. The Braves weren’t willing to offer a sixth season, and at least one other team was. The move to land Olson before Freeman picked his team helped to soften the blow. They replaced their first baseman with a player of similar caliber who’s 4 ½ years younger. Financially, that makes sense.

Olson signed for $168 million over eight years; Freeman signed for $162 over six. Going by their ages, Olson should be a better player in 2029, when his contract lapses, than Freeman will be in 2027, when his deal does. (Though “should be” is no guarantee.)

Once the Braves knew they weren’t keeping Freeman, Olson was the best possible Plan B. That’s the belief of this correspondent, who gets paid not to root. If you’re a Braves fan, you’re surely saying, “They let the face of the franchise leave because of 6 million dollars.”

I understand Alex Anthopoulos’ logic. I trust his decisions. Over his past four seasons as a general manager, his teams have finished first, first, first and first. The Braves are owned by Liberty Media, not by Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and a movie producer. The Dodgers have the richest local TV deal in the sport. All of this is true. That doesn’t mean it feels right.

If you’re a Braves fan, you’re hurting. You will be for a while. This could be one of those moves you never get past, like the Hawks trading Dominique Wilkins, though I concede I’d forgiven the Reds for trading the Big Bopper by 1973, by which time I’d decided Joe Morgan was the best player in baseball. (Check the WAR. He was.)

If I owned the Braves, would I have said, “We’re keeping Freddie no matter what it takes”? Probably. Braves fans came to love Freeman not just because he’s a great player, though that was part of it, but also because he’s a great guy. As comprehensive as WAR tries to be, there’s no allowance for likeability.

Freeman’s baseball skills will be hard to replace. The feel-good factor will be impossible. Not to heap pressure on Matt Olson, but there’s a ton of pressure on Matt Olson.

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