Dodgers begin spring training as Freddie Freeman speculation continues to swirl
Usually, Major League Baseball’s offseason hot stove plays out behind the scenes, with executives operating in the shadows and news leaking out slowly on social media.
On Monday, however, free-agent speculation took center stage at Camelback Ranch during the Dodgers’ first official workout of spring training.
Just past 11 a.m., Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Brandon Gomes walked out of the team’s offices to watch pitchers throw bullpen sessions. That’s where they remained when, minutes later, news broke that the Atlanta Braves were acquiring first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics — a move that all but ensured top free-agent target Freddie Freeman won’t return to Atlanta.
Suddenly, the Dodgers’ chances of signing Freeman, the first baseman and former most valuable player from Orange El Modena High, seemed to skyrocket. And for the next half-hour, all eyes were on the executives who have been leading the pursuit of the 32-year-old slugger.
Friedman chatted with Clayton Kershaw before taking a phone call. Gomes talked with a couple pitching coaches, then huddled with Friedman, manager Dave Roberts and assistant GM Alex Slater.
Three Cy Young awards, an NL MVP honor and a World Series title hasn’t dampened Clayton Kershaw’s desire to win, and that’s why he’s back with the Dodgers.
It was a fitting snapshot of this lockout-shortened camp, where winter transactions are colliding with a condensed preparation for the upcoming season.
“Everyone’s excited to be here,” Roberts said. “But just really understanding that it’s gonna be a quick build up.”
Roberts was involved in the Dodgers’ pitch to Freeman before the lockout, making his case directly to the five-time All-Star over a Zoom call.
“He knows what we think of him,” Roberts said. “So he’s got a decision to make.”
On Monday, however, Roberts’ attention had to be elsewhere as he watched this roster up close for the first time. The day’s big event was a live batting practice thrown by Kershaw, who was facing hitters for the first time all offseason. The left-hander, who had to rehabilitate an elbow injury over the winter, faced four batters and threw 15 pitches before retreating to the bullpen for another inning’s worth of throws.
“I felt like everything came out as good as it can for the first time,” said Kershaw, who is hopeful of being ready for opening day. “Hadn’t faced hitters, hadn’t thrown off a dirt mound yet — to do all that stuff and come away feeling good and feel my stuff was in a decent spot was encouraging.”
Walker Buehler, Andrew Heaney and Julio Urías also threw bullpens. Tony Gonsolin followed Kershaw on the mound during the live BP. Trea Turner took grounders at shortstop, moving back to his natural position following the departure of Corey Seager to the Texas Rangers. And most of the Dodgers’ other regulars took the field for the first time.
Yet, in the clubhouse afterward — where reporters were allowed again for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 — the conversation shifted back to Freeman.
Private equity firms aren’t getting involved to run MLB teams. With revenues skyrocketing, they’re buying in to make money on the investment.
“He would definitely help us tremendously,” said Cody Bellinger, who had been following the day’s developments on Twitter. “I don’t know the details [of the Olson trade to Atlanta] of who he’s got or what he wants to do, but that’s one less team that we have to think about.”
Echoed Turner, a former division rival of Freeman’s while with the Washington Nationals: “I’ve played against Freddie for a long time now and he’s unbelievable. … I don’t know the situation right now. It’s one minute this, one minute that. I can’t keep up with it that much. But hopefully he comes here.”
Relievers Caleb Ferguson and Tommy Kahnle are unlikely to be ready for opening day, Roberts said, as they try to come back from Tommy John surgery. … Turner, entering the final year of his contract, told reporters the Dodgers approached him about an extension before the lockout, but that so far there has been “nothing of substance” in negotiations. He said he is open to staying in L.A. long term.
Former Olympic softball player and ESPN broadcaster Jessica Mendoza joins a reconfigured Dodgers TV and radio coverage team for the 2022 season.
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