How Freddie Freeman and Kenley Jansen Switched Teams

SAN DIEGO — The All-Star first baseman who desperately wanted to stay in Atlanta is in Los Angeles. The All-Star Closer who absolutely ...


SAN DIEGO — The All-Star first baseman who desperately wanted to stay in Atlanta is in Los Angeles.

The All-Star Closer who absolutely wanted to stay in Los Angeles is in Atlanta.

The other All-Star first baseman, whose trade from Oakland to Atlanta sparked this chain reaction, is thrilled he and his wife had the chance to return to their hometown as part of a deal long-term.

The business of baseball can be wildly unpredictable, unbiased and soulless, but it’s rarely distilled into a direct-impact three-way collision over a five-day span like it did for Freddie Freeman, Kenley Jansen and Matt Olson at the half-March. . The aftershocks will be on full display starting Monday night at Dodger Stadium with a season-opening rematch of last fall’s National League Championship Series between Los Angeles and Atlanta.

“I can’t believe he’s a Dodger and not a Brave,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said of Freeman one afternoon near the end of spring training, still exuberantly less two weeks after the veteran slugger donned his new uniform for the first time.

“We naively expected him to end up in Atlanta,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “Obviously, our interest was real. But the likelihood of that happening, in our minds, was very slim.

Freeman, 32, is a five-time All-Star, the 2020 NL Most Valuable Player award winner and a 13-year veteran. He broke out with Atlanta in 2010, became a face of the franchise over the next decade, and was beloved by the team’s fans. He thought he would be a lifelong Brave. One of his older brothers, Andrew, had even been transferred to the Atlanta area from Mexico in his job at Honeywell to be closer to Freddie. His half-sister, Diana, moved there for the same reason.

“It was one of the places she could go, and she thought it would be fun,” said Fred Sr., Freddie’s father. “Now she’s having dinner with my eldest son instead of Freddie.”

The roots were deep. But Freeman’s free agency after the World Series championship in Atlanta brought uncertainty, and MLB’s 99-day lockdown which stretched from December to March brought darkness.

When business picked up and the lights came back on, Atlanta stunned Freeman and the rest of baseball by immediately acquiring Olson, who was playing in the same position, from Oakland on the first Monday of spring training. It was a flashing neon sign indicating that the Braves had cut ties with Freeman unexpectedly.

“It changed the landscape, and we felt there was a real chance we could make it happen,” Friedman said of his team’s pursuit of Freeman.

Two days later, in fact, the Dodgers signed Freeman, who grew up just a few pop flies from Dodger Stadium in Orange County, Calif., giving him the six-year, $162 million contract that Atlanta had hesitated to offer.

Two days later, the Braves signed Jansen, 34, whose 350 saves early in the season ranked 13th all-time, to a one-year, $16 million deal.

“I would never say I wanted to go back to LA; I’ll go where I feel like I want to,” Jansen said during a weekend interview in San Diego, before adding, “That bruise will be in my blood for the rest of my life. Everywhere I go people tell me I’m a Dodger. It’s just the business side. It didn’t work for both of us for obvious reasons. We both tried hard, but it didn’t happen.

If Jansen had waited a few more days for things to settle down in Los Angeles, it’s possible he could have stayed with the only organization he’s known in baseball. But once he signed, the Dodgers moved on by trading for a new closer, Craig Kimbrel.

“I’ve already waited,” Jansen said. “I can’t wait a moment. At some point, will other teams take you seriously or not? Sometimes in life, you have to look at it this way: when a good opportunity presents itself, are you going to pass it up? Or will you take it?

Meanwhile, Freeman might have been willing to sign with Atlanta for less than he took from the Dodgers. But when that door closed, it closed for good. During his introductory press conference with the Dodgers that week, Freeman strongly implied that the tears shed by Alex Anthopoulos, president of Atlanta baseball operations, discussing his exit were false.

“Everything is comfortable now,” the normally affable Freeman said in a sometimes terse interview in late spring. “I’m just impatient now.”

The Dodgers understand his emotional wounds and the team is doing everything in its power to make him feel at home beyond what this $162 million deal alone does.

“Every day it gets a little easier for him to realize that he’s not with the Braves anymore,” Roberts said, adding, “There’s a business side to things and some things are out of a guy’s control. player Freddie took the high road.

His relationships in Atlanta could be changed forever – in a tense series of recent interviews, Ronald Acuña Jr. of Atlanta expressed his joy that Freeman was gone before saying his words had been misinterpreted – but Freeman is looking forward to it to visit his former teammates this week at Dodger Stadium.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Freeman said. ” I can not wait. Oh yeah. I can see all the guys I won a championship with last year. We are forever connected. I can not wait to be there.

Now, however, he is tasked with snatching the NL title from them. In Los Angeles, Freeman is part of an enviable list that includes four MVP winners: Freeman, Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger. Roberts said “he’s going to help us win a championship” and, at the very least, rival pitchers will need some nerves of steel.

As for their unexpected connection through the spring series of deals, Freeman said he didn’t know Olson “at all” and he didn’t really know Jansen either. Jansen said he knew Freeman well enough to say hello and “that’s it.”

Before Freeman or Jansen figured out where they could go, the fast-working Braves signed Olson to an eight-year contract extension worth $168 million just 24 hours after trading for him.

“It was like the stars were aligned,” Olson said. “It was the perfect storm. To be lucky enough to have a long-term option in the town where I grew up, joining the World Series champions was a pretty easy choice for my wife and me.

His new teammates were welcoming, he said, and when he returned to Atlanta for a season-opening homestand, he said he felt no coldness from the upset fans. by Freeman.

“I was pleasantly surprised how it turned out,” Olson said.

It was also a sort of homecoming for Jansen. Growing up in Curacao, the Braves were Jansen’s team because of Atlanta center back Andruw Jones. Jansen said he was happy to play alongside fellow countryman Ozzie Albies, and his warm smile is familiar, even if his new uniform isn’t, at least not yet.

“He’s a big part of this team,” manager Brian Snitker said. “You wouldn’t know he hasn’t been here for five or six years when you see him in the clubhouse.”

Jansen, his wife, Gianni, and their three children will continue to make the Los Angeles area their permanent home, the closest said. So far, he’s tried not to think too much about this week’s early season comeback. But he is happy to get rid of it as soon as possible.

“When the time comes, I’m probably going to get emotional,” he said. “I have to make sure I control it.”

For most of the past decade, displayed above his locker in the Dodgers clubhouse has been a California state flag, modified to “Kenley-Fornia.” He will now go to his home gym “in remembrance”, he said.

When old roads end and new beginnings begin, some memories can be sweet.

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