The inside story of where Freddie Freeman’s free agency went wrong

It may be the most salacious soap opera between a player, his agent, and team that has ever spilled out publicly in baseball history.

While we have been deluged with different narratives, truths, lies and inaccuracies, all that is truly known is one fact: Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, who has formally fired his agency with no plans for reconciliation, had zero intention of leaving Atlanta.

“This guy is very sad he’s not still here in Atlanta,” one Atlanta club official told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s still awfully upset. Clearly. It all came out in his emotions last weekend. It was tough to watch’’

Who could have imagined that being paid $162 million playing for the powerful Dodgers, and living close to home wouldn’t assure eternal happiness?

But it’s clear that Freeman’s heart remains in Atlanta, vowing to keep a home in Atlanta, and still plans to celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays with the entire family in Atlanta.

“I don’t know if I ever will find closure,’’ Freeman said last weekend.

Freddie Freeman reacts during pregame ceremonies in Atlanta.

Freddie Freeman reacts during pregame ceremonies in Atlanta.

Freeman, who originally blamed GM Alex Anthopoulos and Atlanta’s ownership for his departure, now puts the blame squarely on his agent, Casey Close, and his agency, Excel Sports Management.

He formally fired them last weekend, persons with direct knowledge confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. They spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Close shifts the blame to the Atlanta organization, saying they are spinning a false narrative, and perhaps might have been more interested in acquiring first baseman Matt Olson from Oakland instead of keeping Freeman all along.

And FOX Sports Radio talk-show host Doug Gottlieb, who basically accused Close of malpractice, is now being threatened with a lawsuit from Excel.

While the war of words continue, there really is only one man who could have prevented this feud.

Frederick Charles Freeman.

Freeman, one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, must look in the mirror and blame himself for not taking control of his negotiations.

Sure, Close and Excel may represent him in contract talks, just as they have for the past 15 years, but they work for Freeman, not the other way around.

Freeman calls the shots, not his agency.

USA TODAY Sports spoke to three persons with direct knowledge of the negotiations to put together a timeline of Freeman’s free agency:

Spring training 2021: Atlanta offered a five-year, $110 million contract. They raised it to $125 million in August with a $25 million club option for a sixth year that included a $3 million buyout. They increased it to $135 million three days later with a $27 million club option for a sixth year, this time with a $6 million buyout.

At any point, Freeman could have instructed his agents to accept it. Before the season started. Before the regular season ended. After the World Series. Before the lockout. After the lockout.

March 10, 2022: When the lockout ended, Anthopoulos immediately telephoned Close on March 10 to say they still wanted to keep Freeman, and they would resume negotiations. They talked again on March 12 when Anthopoulos discussed increasing the offer to $140 million.

Yet, it was not a formal offer, the terms of a club option and buyout were unknown, and there was no term sheet presented.

So even if Freeman says he did not know Atlanta was willing to increase its offer to $140 million, he certainly knew about the $135 million offer that had been on the table for seven months. Would an extra $1 million per year really have made a difference?

There’s no doubt Freeman was frustrated throughout last season that Atlanta wasn’t making a bigger push to keep him.

Once Freeman decided to go ahead and test free agency, it’s conceivable that his agency advised Freeman to hold out for more money. He just helped lead Atlanta to their first World Series title since 1995. He was also the face of a franchise that had become a cash cow with their sellout crowds, with money pouring in from The Battery, a surrounding area of shops, restaurants and bars.

March 12: What came next is what led to all of the drama, with both sides disagreeing on the course of the events, leaving Freeman confused and wondering who to believe.

Atlanta executives say that on March, 12 the eve of players reporting to spring training, Freeman’s agency decided to play a high-risk poker game, giving the club one hour to accept a six-year, $175 million contract, or a five-year, $165 million deal, calling it a “Freddie Freeman discount.’’

Atlanta took them at their word and walked away.

Freeman’s agent however, says there was no such deadline or ultimatum.

“I categorically deny that any deadline was made,’’ Close tells USA TODAY Sports.

But why would any agency would make that kind of reckless bluff when Freeman had no other formal offers at that point? Reports that the Yankees were talking to Freeman were false. They didn’t have a single negotiation with the Yankees. There was no other team bidding because everyone assumed Freeman was returning to Atlanta.

When Anthopoulos and Close hung up the phone, Anthopoulos was convinced it was all over, believing that Freeman surely must have a bigger deal on the table. He quickly reached out to see if he could sign free agent Anthony Rizzo, who wasn’t ready to sign.

– March 14: Anthopoulos turned to the A’s, reaching a deal for Olson, and then signing him 24 hours later to an eight-year, $162 million deal.

– March 17: The Dodgers, who had flirted with Freeman before the lockout, stepped in and signed him to a six-year, $162 million contract that included $57 million in deferrals.

Freeman with Atlanta manager Brian Snitker as he received his 2021 World Series ring.

Freeman with Atlanta manager Brian Snitker as he received his 2021 World Series ring.

“Everyone knew my priority was to sign Freddie Freeman,’’ Anthopoulos says, “and when he didn’t, we had to prepare for other options.’’

Freeman tried to put on a brave face for the first three months of the season, saying how much he loved playing for the Dodgers, living close to his Corona del Mar home, but when the Dodgers played in Truist Field last weekend, his emotions poured out.

He started crying during a press conference before the start of the series, and while in town, fired Close and the Excel agency.

Freeman has been telling friends, family, teammates, peers and reporters that he would fire Excel after a three-hour FaceTime call with Anthopoulos a week after he signed with the Dodgers. He decided to make the decision official last weekend, telling the Major League Baseball Players Association he is currently representing himself and doesn’t want to be contacted by any agency.

It’s news any time a high-priced player fires his agency, particularly after a free-agent contract is already competed, considering Freeman still is required to pay Excel about $8 million – the standard 5% fee – for the duration of the contract.

It took on a life of its own when Gottlieb tweeted and said during his radio show that Freeman fired Close and Excel while in Atlanta because he just learned was unaware of the final offer.

Close, refusing to stand by and watch his career ruined, fired back with statements on back-to-back days, while defending himself in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.

“I will not stand by as the circumstances surrounding Freddie Freeman’s departure from Atlanta are mischaracterized,’’ Close said in a statement. “Since March, the Braves have fostered a narrative about the negotiations which, stated plainly, is false. Part of that false narrative is the suggestion that I did not communicate a contract offer to the Freemans.

“To be clear, we communicated every offer that was made, as well as every communication Excel had with the Braves organization throughout the entire process.’’

Freeman was copied on every formal offer Atlanta made, multiple people told USA TODAY Sports, so he shouldn’t have been completely surprised.

Maybe he didn’t know about the ultimatum. Maybe there wasn’t an ultimatum. Maybe Close and his agency expected Atlanta to panic and come back with another offer. Maybe Anthopoulos and Atlanta felt that they were left with no choice. Maybe Olson was Atlanta’s first choice. Maybe Atlanta had to move on before they were left with no alternatives.

“I may never know the complete truth,’’ Freeman said.

Freeman’s friends say that if Freeman actually knew that Atlanta would pivot around and trade for Olson if he didn’t sign before the start of spring training, he would have accepted their unofficial five-year, $140 million offer.

We’ll never know for sure, but Freeman has made it quite clear that he never wanted to leave Atlanta, and with of the emotions hitting him at once last weekend, he realized the free-agent outcome was a colossal mistake.

He can blame his agent.

His agent can blame Atlanta.

Atlanta can blame miscommunication between the player and agenct.

Everyone is scrambling to save face now, but in the end, this falls on Freeman.

He was the one ultimately accountable, deciding whether to stay in Atlanta or risk the uncertainty of free agency.

Freeman may still be upset, his nerves still raw after last weekend’s lovefest in Atlanta, but really, whose fault is it?

Ready to ride … without the motorcycle

It’s driving Fernando Tatis, Jr. absolutely crazy.

Here he is, the highest-paid player on the San Diego Padres, perhaps the most talented, too, and he hasn’t played a single inning.

“It’s just killing me, it’s been so tough on me,’’ Tatis says. “It makes you appreciagte when you are on the field every day, and remembering that.’’

It was a motorcycle accident during the winter, resulting in a fractured left wrist, that has sidelined him for three months and counting. Tatis, who got encouraging news from his doctors on Tuesday, is expected to return at the end of July, or first week of August.

He’s just grateful the Padres are still in the NL West race, with hopes of still winning their first division title since 2006.

“This is a very special team, a very special group, a complete team,’’ Tatis tells USA TODAY Sports. “We’re really confident with the guys we have in this clubhouse. We got saw dawgs in there. The talent is there, and now it’s all coming together.

“I just kept telling the guys, ‘Hold down the boat, I’ll be there.’ They went out there and grinded and grinded, becoming one of the best teams in baseball.

“I love it. I can’t wait to be part of it.’’

The Padres’ success certainly has buoyed Tatis’ spirits, and just in case anyone thought that Tatis would be forgotten during his lengthy absence, he still finished fifth among NL shortstops in the All-Star balloting.

And his endorsements continue to pour in, with Dairy Queen now becoming a corporate sponsor to highlight their summer menu. Tatis already has sponsorships with Adidas, Gatorade and Hyperice.

“I’m just so grateful that even though I’m not playing, these fans and sponsors still have my back,’’ Tatis said. “They’ve stood by me. It means a lot to me, and gives me more energy to come back stronger. They’ve really motivated me.’’

Who knows, Tatis may be rewarding someone himself, saying his motorcycle days are over.

So, what happen to that motorcycle, anyway?

“I’ve got no choice,’’ he says. “I’ve got to sell it. Maybe you’ll see it on eBay.’’

Looking good, feeling good

C.C. Sabathia, who could become the next pitcher inducted into Cooperstown, is establishing himself as a Hall of Famer in the business world too.

He is vice president of the Players Alliance. He is a special assistant to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. He has a charity, PitCCH In Foundation. He has a podcast, R2C2. He has a memoir, “Till the End.’

And now he has his own signature hat with melin’s Trenches Crest HYDRO, depicting the Yankees, the New York skyline and his hometown neighborhood, and his love of golf.

“This hat is special to me, I’m excited to bring it back full circle,’’ says Sabathia, after coming off the golf course shooting 92.

Sabathia, who earned about $260 million in his career, hopes to be an inspiration to all athletes, taking advantage of a whole new business world out there.

He sees the $1.19 million paid each year to retired Bobby Bonilla on July 1 until he’s 72, knowing that every retired athlete would like to be in the same position.

“Man, I think everybody looks at him that contract and says, ‘That’s pretty cool,’” Sabathia tells USA TODAY. “Everybody pays attention. Bobby Bo Day. Everybody wants that.’’

Sabathia laughs, knowing that while this may have been Bobby Bonilla Day, the real money on this day was in the NBA, with seven players being paid a staggering $1.5 billion in contracts, including a five-year, $270 million extension to Denver Nuggets MVP Nikola Jokic.

“The funny thing is that because of the years, it’s no big deal in the NBA,’’ Sabathia says. “But in baseball, people freak out in 10-year, 13-year deals. The NBA is just different with revenue sharing. They get paid a lot more money, and all of the numbers are set in place. They give incentives for guys like Bradley Beal to stay home with Washington.

“Maybe baseball should pay attention to that. You look at a team like the [Guardians] that drafted well and raised them, but couldn’t keep them.

“It’s something something to think about.’’

Minniti 2022

Bryan Minniti, the former Philadelphia Phillies’ assistant GM, who has been an MLB front office executive for 20 years, spent 20 hours on a plane Friday.

He was headed to Taiwan. No, this was not a scouting trip. It wasn’t even an interview.

It was an election.

For the first time in his life, Minniti, 42, is running for office.

Minniti is a finalist to become president of the World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC), along with an executive board position, chairman of the baseball division and vice chairman of the baseball division.

The vote will take place Monday and Tuesday in Taipei, Taiwan among about 150 federations casting votes.

“I’m either going to come out of nowhere and win something,’’ Minniti says, “or completely get my ass kicked. I have absolutely nothing to lose. I just want to help these federations.’’

Minniti, who also worked in the front office with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals, became intrigued five months ago in the WBSC when he traveled to Slovenia for the WBSC European Baseball/Softball Congress.

Certainly, Minniti faces steep odds to become president, facing current president Riccardo Fraccari of Italy and Didier Seminet of France. Minniti also is facing Fraccari and Laurent Assier of New Caledonia for the baseball chairman position.

“I knew about these federations, but I just didn’t have a great working knowledge,’’ said Minniti, who was on the advisory board for USA Baseball. “I went to Slovenia, an old-fashioned networking thing, started digging and talking to these people, and was getting more and more responses.

“There are 80% to 90% of these federations who are small and have no support. I really got energized talking with them, trying to help. What I found out is there’s something pure and positive about the mission. It was eye-opening. I love the cultural exchange, helping people, and especially kids.

“I would love to help grow baseball and softball globally.’’

If Minniti loses out in the elections, it won’t deter his passion. He plans to stay involved in the WBSC, volunteering his services.

“I’ve met amazing people all over the world that are passionate and working so hard to develop our sports with little to no assistance from anyone,’’ Minniti says. “They deserve our support.

Around the basepaths

– It may be a longshot, and perhaps agent Scott Boras will insist that Juan Soto becomes the first $500 million player in baseball history, but the Nationals will keep trying.

They have increased their original 13-year, $350 million offer from the winter to guarantee at least $400 million, which would make him baseball’s first $400 million player. Angels center fielder Mike Trout signed a 12-year, $430 million extension in 2019, but with two years still left on his deal, it was a 10-year deal for $360 million in new money.

Soto, 23, is going to blow past that.

“The thing is that Soto is younger than Trout,’’ former Cy Young and World Series champion pitcher CC Sabathia says. “So you’ve got to pay him more than Trout.’’

The Nationals will keep talking, Soto will keep listening, and there’s still 17 months before he’s eligible for free agency.

Stay tuned.

–There may be a surprise future Hall of Famer that will give the free-agent market quite a boost this winter.

The name is Justin Verlander, who also happens to be the leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young award with his 10-3 record and 2.03 ERA.

You see, he signed a one-year, $25 million contract last winter with the Houston Astros that includes a $25 million player option in 2023 if he reaches 130 innings. Well, he’s just 32 ⅔ innings short, giving him the right to simply accept the $25 million next year or hit the market again for a bigger payday.

He loves Houston, and the Astros love him back, but it may take an extension this winter to assure he stays put.

– Don’t look now, but Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson is about to get paid, and paid big. He has hit .366 in his last 37 games with eight doubles, nine home runs, 27 RBI and 29 runs.

His numbers for the season (.300, 14 homers, 46 RBI, .865 OPS) are nearly identical to Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner, who’s also a free agent, and in line for $300 million.

While Atlanta certainly would like to keep Swanson, there’s certainly an added layer of intrigue in his negotiations. Swanson is represented by the Excel Sport Agency, yes, the same agents who represented Freddie Freeman.

– The Cubs plan to spend money this winter, badly need a shortstop, and several executives are predicting that they end up with Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is expected to opt out after the season with the Boston Red Sox.

The Cubs engaged late with Carlos Correa before he signed with the Twins in March, uninterested in any opt-outs, but Bogaerts may be a better, and cheaper fit.

Jed Hoyer, Cubs president of baseball operations, was with the Red Sox when Bogaerts signed in 2009.

– Teams are wasting their time calling for Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen. He’s not going anywhere.

Arizona instead would love to move Madison Bumgarner, but he still has about $50 million left on his five-year, $85 million deal.

They are expected to trade reliever Ian Kennedy, outfielder David Peralta and starter Zach Davies.

– Can we finally get over the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal? That was five years ago, and only three position players remain.

The truth is that the Astros continue to be great, like it or not, and proved it in a grueling nine-game stretch against the Mets and Yankees. They went 7-2, outscoring the New York teams, 41-21.

Their starting pitching, led by Verlander, has been nothing short of phenomenal. They yielded a 1.52 ERA in the nine games, giving up just 28 hits in 59 ⅓ innings. The Astros are 46-7 this season when giving up four or fewer runs, and are expected to have veteran starter Lance McCullers back in August.

“You got to give them a lot of credit,’’ says former Yankees starter CC Sabathia. “The one man who was perfect bringing them out of all of that was [manager] Dusty [Baker].

“I was at their no-hitter against the Yankees, and to see them come through New York, and play as great as they did, were impressive. They are good, really good.

“I love the Yankees like my little brother, but it would only be fitting to see them go through Houston in the ALCS. It will be a dogfight. I’d love to see a seven-game series.’’

– There will be no popular executive at the trade deadline than Cincinnati Reds GM Nick Krall, who has two top starters to move in Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle in a seller’s market. They also will be shopping third basemen Brandon Drury, Mike Moustakas and Donovan Solano; outfielders Tommy Pham and Tyler Naquin; and veteran starter Mike Minor.

Krall better charge his cell phone now.

– Tigers owner Chris Ilitch is making it clear that he still supports GM Al Avila and the front office and doesn’t plan to make any changes.

“I’m very pleased with the progress at the Detroit Tigers,” Ilitch said Friday. “Despite a very slow start this season with our team, there’s actually some good progress happening with some of the young guys that have come up and developed and so on and so forth.”

The Tigers have the third-worst record in the American League, but after spending $230 million an free agents this past offseason, plan to spend in the free-agent market again this winter, seeking a third baseman, catcher and outfield help.

– The New York Mets and owner Steve Cohen want to be aggressive at the trade deadline, but instead they won’t surrender their top prospects to go for the glory this fall. They’re telling teams they’ll gladly assume large contracts, but the prospects will stay.

– Contract negotiations are at a standstill with Padres ace Joe Musgrove, who’s a Cy Young candidate, but the Padres definitely want to keep him, and Musgrove badly wants to stay.

– Dodgers veteran David Price, the former Cy Young winner and World Series champion, is strongly considering retiring after this season.

– The top outfielders and DHs available in trades right now are Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates; Andrew Benintendi of the Royals; Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander of the Orioles; Ian Happ of the Cubs; Ramon Laureano of the Athletics; David Peralta of the Diamondbacks and Robbie Grossman of the Tigers.

– The biggest miss at last year’s trade deadline, or even this winter, was Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin. Rival executives will tell you that he was more than available, but no one envisioned that he would be more than a fourth or fifth starter.

These days, the dude is 10-0 with a 1.54 ERA. He’s the first starter to open a season 10-0 while allowing fewer than 50 hits since Walter Johnson in 1913.

– Remember when everyone was throwing a pity party for Cleveland when they traded Francisco Lindor to the Mets?

Well, one of the prized young players they received in return was Andres Gimenez.

You can probably get a good look at him at the All-Star Game.

He leads all AL second basemen in WAR (3.5), and is batting .308 with a .858 OPS while playing spectacular defense. He has been Mr. Clutch hitting .468 with three doubles, a triple, five home runs and 19 RBI in the eighth inning or later this season.

– Darren Baker, the son of Astros manager Dusty Baker, is quietly having a fine season in his first full year for Nationals’ Class A team Wilmington team.

He would be an ideal candidate to be invited to the Futures Game where his dad will be managing the AL All-Star team just three days later.

Please, make it happen, MLB.

– In an informal survey of players and executives, when asked who will win the AL Central, they picked Cleveland.

They had four comeback victories in 10 games over the Twins that has kept them in a muddling race where everyone has deep flaws, blemishes, and, uh, broken glasses, too.

When Josh Naylor hit a walk-off homer in the 10th inning over the Twins on Wednesday, overcoming a three-run lead, he head-butted manager Terry Francona in the celebration, who was wearing a helmet.

Francona’s glasses were completely bent, and needed to get them fixed the following morning.

Francona’s glasses were so bent that he said that he looked like the late Max Patkin, “The Clown Prince of Baseball.’’

The head-butting can continue, Francona says, as long as Naylor continues this late-inning heroics. He’s hitting .365 with five home runs and 32 RBI with runners in scoring position, and .500 with three doubles, four home runs and 16 RBI in extra innings.

– Kudos to Mets ace Max Scherzer who spent about $7,000 buying steak and lobster dinners for his Binghamton teammates in his final rehab start, while also buying AirPods for the entire team.

– Oh, what a difference a year or two makes.

Infielder Matt Carpenter hit seven home runs the past two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, spanning 347 at-bats.

This year, he has hit eight homers in just 41 at-bats with the Yankees.

– There was absolutely zero surprise that Marlins fired vice president Gary Denbo this week. He was Derek Jeter’s right-hand man, and with his contract expiring at the end of the season, he had no chance to survive. There will be plenty more departures after the season with Jeter abruptly leaving in February.

– Cubs manager David Ross on MLB’s future with robo-umps:

“I have a long history with umpires being a [former] catcher,” Ross said. “The interaction there is fun. And you understand our game’s imperfect, and trying to make it perfect can be tough. But also that taking out some of the argument of balls and strikes, what that will look like and be like, we’ll see.

“I think there’s always unintended consequences of every change. And hopefully a lot of those are good, but sometimes there may be some bad and you may have to make another adjustment.”

– The Dodgers are planning to have five-time Gold Glove winner Mookie Betts play second base instead of right field when he comes off the injured list after sustaining a cracked rib last month.

– The Nats, who just picked up the 2023 options for GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez, have gone just 54-102 in their last 162 games from July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022 in the midst of their rebuild.

– It was a point of pride for Padres third baseman Manny Machado not to go on the injured list with his sprained ankle since he still missed 10 games, leaving the Padres a player short. He hasn’t gone on the injured list since 2014, and plans to keep it that way as long as possible.

– Teams are keeping an eye on Robinson Cano, who is hitting .323 with a .362 on-base percentage and .400 slugging percentage in the two weeks since he re-signed with the Padres, playing for their Class AAA El Paso team.

– The A’s certainly couldn’t wait for June to end, losing 21 of 26 games, but even if they had gone undefeated, nothing would have topped the news of a huge hurdle removed in the A’s quest to build a new ballpark on the Oakland waterfront.

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission elected to remove Howard Terminal from the Port of Oakland.

There are plenty of obstacles that still remain, but finally, there is hope that the A’s can stay in Oakland and play in a 35,000-seat stadium with a surrounding village of housing, office space, hotels and public parks, costing about $12 billion.

– The Yankees have been a juggernaut for more than a century now, but this could be only the third time in franchise history that they led the league in runs while also giving up the fewest runs, as Jayson Stark points out. It last happened in 1939.

– Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman produced the best defensive month of June playing shortstop and second base, according Sports Info Solutions, saving a major-league leading nine runs, including five at shortstop and four at second base. He has had only two misplays and errors in 380 innings at second base this season.

– This is only the second time in history that four No. 1 draft picks made their major-league debuts in the same year with Mark Appel (2013), Royce Lewis (2017), Adley Rutschman (2019) and Spencer Torkelson (2020).

The only other year: 1989 with Ken Griffey Jr., Andy Benes, Jeff King and Ben McDonald.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Freddie Freeman free agency: Atlanta, agent disagree on one big point

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