GLENDALE, Ariz. — As vibes go, the feeling inside the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ clubhouse went to another level Thursday.
The addition of former MVP Freddie Freeman, who sources say agreed to a six-year, $162 million deal with the team Wednesday night, was the talk of the room as players reported for spring practice Thursday morning.
A good team knows it just got a whole lot better.
“Excited is an understatement,” third baseman Justin Turner said.
Manager Dave Roberts declared a few moments later: “It’s a great day to be a Dodger.”
The Dodgers’ courtship started just before the lockout began back in December, with Roberts speaking to Freeman on the phone. However, there weren’t many people in baseball who felt the slugger would actually leave Atlanta.
That all changed after the lockout, which put the Dodgers in great position to sign the five-time All-Star.
“Did that really happen?” Roberts said he asked himself as he woke up Thursday. “Once Atlanta made that deal for Olson, it kind of came to pass.
“We’re a much better ball club today than we were yesterday.”
The respect for Freeman’s game was echoed throughout the clubhouse as players imagined how his addition to an already-potent lineup might further terrorize opposing pitchers. The most seasoned of their own hurlers grinned at the thought of never facing Freeman again.
“He has to be one of the top 3-4 hitters in the game,” Clayton Kershaw said. “He has that personality that will fit into any clubhouse.
“He’s one of those guys that if you get him out it’s because he got himself out.”
Roberts has the enviable task of making out the lineup every night — something he was tinkering with all week as the rumors heated up. It won’t be easy to get everybody all the at-bats they want — but it sure will be fun, he said.
“The designated hitter is going to give us more runway for other guys,” Roberts said, referencing the universal DH added to the latest collective bargaining agreement. “It’ll be a little different for guys like Justin or Max [Muncy].”
With Freeman slotted at first base, its likely to impact Muncy the most. He’s still recovering from an elbow injury that ended his season prematurely last year, but the addition of Freeman allows him to be the DH if needed. Even if Muncy isn’t ready for Opening Day, holdovers like Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Turner, Gavin Lux, Trea Turner — and now Freeman — give the Dodgers plenty of offense.
“We have a position player lineup of all All-Stars,” Kershaw said. “But it doesn’t mean we’re going to win. We have to work together and come together as a team. We can’t assume just because we have nine of the best players in the game running out there, that we’re going to win.”
Roberts echoed that message, as well. Names on a paper don’t win championships; hard work does. But Freeman brings that as well, they say.
“A professional guy, a professional hitter,” Turner said. “He controls the strike zone. Uses the whole field. Has power from foul pole to foul pole. He knows how to drive in runs. When you add that into our lineup, oof, that could be a pretty ridiculous year for him.”
And for the organization.
Players have stopped being surprised by moves the Dodgers keep making. From Betts to Freeman, cost in dollars or player capital hasn’t stopped them.
“It’s a testament to Andrew [Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations], but a bigger testament to our ownership,” Kershaw said.
“We always seem to get the person,” catcher Austin Barnes said.
The “person,” in this case, just helped the Braves to a World Series title and he won the league MVP the season before that. He has also won three consecutive Silver Slugger awards and has a Gold Glove.
But his new manager said Freeman sounded more like a rookie when the two talked Wednesday, moments after the deal was completed.
“I don’t know if I’ve come across a guy, whether it be a trade or a call-up, that was as excited as Freddie Freeman was to be a Dodger,” Roberts said. “He didn’t sound like a veteran on the phone, which is the best compliment I can give a player.”
Freeman is expected to report to camp Friday after taking his physical in Los Angeles. The team has yet to officially announce the deal.