By Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Freddie Freeman admits he’s still baffled and hurt by the way his 15 years with the Atlanta Braves ended.
The star slugger is also thrilled that the messy breakup allowed him to start the next chapter of his impressive career close to home with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Freeman joined the Dodgers on Friday for his first workout since agreeing to a $162 million, six-year contract to be a centerpiece of Los Angeles’ powerhouse roster.
“Everyone has just welcomed me with open arms,” Freeman said from the balcony of the Dodgers’ spring training complex after hundreds of fans below cheered while he donned a white Dodgers jersey for the first time.
“They know how much I care about winning and family,“ Freeman added. “If I was going to leave a place I was for 15 years, coming home and being in this organization is probably the best thing that could have happened.”
Freeman arrived at the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch training complex in a suit and tie, but immediately got some good-natured ribbing from his more laidback new teammates. Freeman is a Southern California native who probably should have known better, but he is eager to fit in back home.
“It’s not really a suit organization, I guess,” Freeman said with a laugh.
The 32-year-old slugger quickly changed into Dodger Blue for the first showcase of his famously consistent swing in the batting cages.
The Dodgers paid top dollar to get Freeman after his impressive career with the Braves, including a 12-year run with the big-league club culminating in the 2020 NL MVP award and the 2021 World Series title.
Freeman will make $27 million a year with Los Angeles, but $7 million is deferred in each of the first three seasons and $12 million in each of the last three for a total of $57 million. That money is payable in installments of $4 million each July 1 from 2028-35, and $5 million each July 1 from 2036-40.
But the big new contract and bright future hasn’t quelled all of Freeman’s hurt. He was the face of the Braves, but the slugger feels they turned their back on him.
Freeman also was not convinced by the tears from Alex Anthopoulos when the Braves general manager discussed his departure: “I saw them. That’s all I’ll say.”
Although Freeman got just two phone calls from the Atlanta front office during the offseason, he still figured he would be returning to the only team for which he had ever suited up. He kept the faith even when he got a contract offer at last season’s trade deadline, countered it _ and never got another offer.
His optimism vanished Monday when the Braves swung a dramatic trade with Oakland for Matt Olson, who got a $168 million contract a day later.
Freeman was working out at home in Orange County when he heard about the Olson trade, which “blindsided” him. Freeman was born in Fountain Valley and attended El Modena High School in Orange.
“I had no idea that was going to happen, anything like that,” Freeman said. “When I got told, emotions were all over the place. I couldn’t really speak for a couple of hours, trying to figure out what was going on.“
Once he gathered himself, Freeman and his agent entertained offers from several teams. The Dodgers easily made the most sense.
“I talked to my wife and I said, `I think it’s time to go home,’“ Freeman said. “I’ve got my 67-year-old dad and my 86-year-old grandfather who’s now going to be able to watch me play every day, just like 15 years ago in high school, so that’s what’s special to me. To put on a uniform that cares about winning and strives to win every year, that’s all you can ask for.”
The five-time All-Star first baseman is expected to be an immediate staple at the heart of the Dodgers’ batting order and at first base as they seek their second championship in three seasons.
“We couldn’t be more excited to add him as a staple of our lineup for years to come,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.
Freeman batted .300 with 31 homers and 83 RBIs while playing in 161 regular season games last year. He then hit .304 with five homers and 11 RBIs in the postseason while leading the Braves to their first title since 1995, with a six-game victory over the Dodgers in the NLCS along the way.
The Dodgers have made the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, and they ignored their normal aversion to lavish long-term contracts to lock up Freeman, who lives in the Costa Del Mar neighborhood of Newport Beach during the offseason, about 25 minutes from his boyhood home.
Freeman never really thought he would leave Atlanta, but the Dodgers have had their eyes on him for a long time, Friedman acknowledged.
“The last few years, every time he got to first base, Justin Turner would have a conversation with him about how good he would look in Dodger Blue,” Friedman said with a grin. “I think there could definitely be some tampering charges against Justin Turner.”