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Almost three weeks ago, Freddie Freeman fired his agents at Excel Sports Management as his representatives in the wake of a dramatic offseason free-agency process.
In a libel lawsuit filed Thursday by Excel and its lead agent, Casey Close, against sports radio personality Doug Gottlieb, the agency detailed its side of the story.
Thursday’s lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, centered on a report Gottlieb posted to Twitter in the wake of Excel’s firing by Freeman last month, when the Fox Sports radio host alleged Close never told Freeman of a supposed final offer the Atlanta Braves made during the free-agency process.
Excel issued a statement days later denying Gottlieb’s report, and in Thursday’s lawsuit accused him of damaging the reputation of Close and the agency by “falsely and recklessly” publicizing the information on Twitter.
“In truth, every offer from the Atlanta Braves, as well as every material communication with them, was disclosed by [Excel and Close] to Freeman,” the lawsuit read.
Freeman, who is now self-represented, declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
“I don’t see this as a situation about me,” Freeman said. “This is between Excel and Doug.”
The lawsuit, however, did present details about a yearlong negotiation process between the Braves and Freeman’s then-representatives on a new contract for the franchise first baseman.
According to the lawsuit, Close engaged the Braves about an extension for Freeman beginning in the spring of 2021, before the final year of his existing deal with the team.
That March, the lawsuit said, the Braves submitted an offer in writing to Freeman and Close for a five-year, $110-million extension. Freeman rejected it.
The lawsuit said the Braves submitted two more offers in August, first for five years and $125 million, then for five years and $135 million. Freeman rejected both.
The lawsuit did not say the Braves made any further formal offers to Freeman.
It did state that, on March 12, Close and the Braves had “their final two conversations regarding a Freeman contract extension” and that Close presented two contract proposals to the Braves, reportedly a six-year contract and five-year contract both worth much more in annual salary.
The lawsuit said the Braves rejected both, and that they offered no counter proposal.
“Close immediately communicated the final conversation to Freeman,” the lawsuit said.
Two days later, the Braves traded for Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson — effectively ending Freeman’s tenure with the team.
Freeman, who signed with the Dodgers for a six-year, $162-million deal later that week, said at his introductory news conference with the Dodgers this spring he had been “blindsided” by the Olson trade. He had believed up until that point there was still a way he and the Braves could reach a deal.
There were reports the Braves had offered a five-year, $140-million deal late in the negotiating process — an offer which was not mentioned in Thursday’s lawsuit.
However, at the time, Freeman appeared to also desire a sixth year, something he finally received from the Dodgers, who have relied on him this season to spearhead their offense.
Entering Thursday, Freeman led the team with a .317 batting average and .912 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Last month, Close issued another statement in which he claimed the circumstances around Freeman's departure from the Braves had been "mischaracterized" and said "the Braves have fostered a narrative about the negotiations which, stated plainly, is false."
Whatever hard feelings Freeman originally had toward the Braves, though, appeared to soften over the four months since.
He said he and Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who led the negotiations for the Braves, had a three-hour FaceTime conversation before the start of the season in which he heard Anthopoulos’ side of the story.
When the Braves came to Los Angeles for a three-game series in April, he and Anthopoulos shared a pregame embrace, as Freeman did with many other of his former coaches and teammates.
And when the Dodgers went to Atlanta for the first time last month, Freeman had a tearful reunion in which he was awarded his 2021 World Series championship ring from the team.
The lawsuit said that Gottlieb didn’t contact Close or any other representative from Excel before tweeting his report, and that he did not retract the report when Excel asked him to afterward.
The lawsuit also alleged Close received death threats from people believed to be Braves fans, and claimed damages from Gottlieb’s alleged defamation could amount to “tens of millions of dollars.”
"Although we gave Mr. Gottlieb an opportunity to retract his false statement, he failed to do so," Close said in a statement. "The Complaint sets the record straight as to what occurred during the negotiations with the Atlanta Braves."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.