With Freeman a free agent, Braves get star 1B Olson from Athletics

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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VENICE, Fla. — Freddie Freeman‘s tenure with the Atlanta Braves appears to be over after the World Series champions acquired All-Star first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics.

Oakland is getting a prize package of four players from Atlanta, including young outfielder Cristian Pache.

Freeman was the 2020 NL MVP and a five-time All-Star over 12 seasons with Atlanta, including as a veteran leader on last year’s championship team.

Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was speaking to reporters when ESPN broke the news. He said it was the first he was hearing of the trade

“He’s been our guy for a number of years,” Snitker said of Freeman. “Personally, he’s meant a lot to me.”

The 66-year-old Snitker said he already knows Olson, who grew up about 40 minutes east of Atlanta’s Truist Park in Lilburn, Georgia. Snitker said they have worked several youth baseball camps together.

Olson is a two-time Gold Glove winner with a .252 career average, 142 homers and an .859 OPS over six seasons. The 27-year-old slugged 39 homers and drove in 111 runs last season, finishing eighth in AL MVP voting. He’s also under team control through 2024.

Freeman has been revered by fans and teammates in Georgia. On Sunday, Braves pitcher Charlie Morton said that if Freeman returned, he expected the left-handed slugger would one day have his number retired and his photo plastered across the team’s spring training complex, just like franchise heroes Chipper Jones and Hank Aaron.

A career .295 hitter, Freeman surpassed 20 homers eight times with a career-high 38 in 2019. Freeman has a pair of 100-RBI seasons on his resume, and three other years where he drove in more than 90 runs. He won the NL MVP award in 2020, finished in the top 10 of the balloting five other times, in addition to claiming three Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove for his defensive work.

But Freeman’s importance to the organization goes beyond his impressive stats. He was the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse and the face of the franchise to Braves fans, who implored him to stay with the team even as negotiations were put on hold by Major League Baseball’s 99-day lockout.

When the labor dispute was settled and teams scrambled to begin spring training, Freeman became one of the hottest free agents on the market. He is reportedly a prime target of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees, two of baseball’s biggest-spending teams.

The National League is adopting the designated hitter beginning in 2022, so there’s a chance Freeman might still come back to Atlanta, but it’s unlikely given the investment in Olson and the pride Freeman takes in his glovework.

Pache has become a close friend of Atlanta star Ronald Acuna Jr., another loss likely to shake the Braves’ clubhouse. A stellar defensive center fielder, the 23-year-old Pache has struggled to hit in the majors, batting .111 in 22 games last season. He and Acuna pulled into Braves camp Sunday in matching, glitzy-gold SUVs.

Oakland also receives minor league catcher Shea Langeliers and right-handers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes.