The Atlanta Braves aren't waiting for franchise icon Freddie Freeman to make a decision in free agency. The defending World Series champs are swinging a trade for star Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson.
Olson, an All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, is considered a rising powerhouse who slugged 39 homers last season, even in a cavernous Oakland ballpark. After an uncharacteristically bad 2020 season, he made massive strides in 2021, cutting down his strikeout rate and posting a .271/.371/.540 batting line for the best year of his career.
Like Freeman, he is left-handed and will take aim at a friendly fence in right field. The difference? He is more than four years younger than Freeman, and figures to be dramatically cheaper for the next few seasons. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos couldn't directly address Freeman's future when speaking to reporters Monday, but clearly referenced the likely departure. He called it the toughest decision he has made as GM.
The move almost certainly spells the end of Freeman's time in Atlanta. The 2020 NL MVP has spent his entire career with the Braves so far, and led the team to its 2021 World Series triumph. The Dodgers and Yankees are rumored to be pursuing him.
The A's, who appear intent on trading away stars and veterans, will receive defensively superb center fielder Cristian Pache, esteemed catching prospect Shea Langeliers and pitching prospects Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes in return. The A's announced the deal.
Is Freddie Freeman done with the Braves?
It would appear that Braves icon Freddie Freeman will suit up in a different uniform soon.
Drafted by the Braves in 2007, he rose to the majors in 2010 and provided the bridge from winning era to winning era during a rebuild in Atlanta. When Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and others rose up, they found Freeman setting the tone.
Freeman batted .341 during the shortened 2020 season to win NL MVP, and capped his career trophy case with a World Series win last season. After that triumph, he said he was hopeful he would remain in Atlanta.
But when he was still on the market as the lockout hit, speculation mounted that the Braves wouldn't be his final destination after all. He has reportedly sought a five- or six-year deal, with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the running thanks to the addition of a universal designated hitter.
There are advantages to trading for Olson. He remains under team control and in the arbitration system that will keep his salary suppressed for this season and next. Plus, if he succeeds as expected — Olson's mammoth left-handed power could be remarkably potent in combination with Atlanta's short right field porch — he can also be a more youthful long-term option.
However, this could also be viewed as a team that raked in gigantic profit margins last year choosing to part with a franchise legend to save a buck.
Braves fans who have pined for Freeman's return will undoubtedly get used to Olson's power and defensive excellence, but will likely be disappointed that the team leader won't call Atlanta home any longer. Olson, in what may be little consolation, is an Atlanta native.
A's teardown is in full swing
The A's, meanwhile, won 86 games last year and competed for the postseason. They seem intent on not doing that again any time soon.
Fresh off a lockout where they successfully convinced MLB they should receive revenue sharing money again, the A's and owner John Fisher are taking their already modest payroll out at the knees.
Olson, who finished eighth in AL MVP voting last year and ranks among the game's best first basemen, is projected to make $11 million in 2022. That was apparently too much. He's the second key contributor Oakland has sent packing since the lockout ended. The A's also dealt reliable starting pitcher Chris Bassitt to the New York Mets.
With Olson out the door, expect any and all established useful players to be popping up in trade rumors. Third base wizard Matt Chapman, rotation stalwarts Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas and reliever Lou Trivino are the most obvious candidates.
In the return, the A's secure two prospects who landed on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101. Pache has already seen time in the majors, but has yet to match a competent bat with his superlative center field defense. In many evaluators' eyes, he is no longer even the best outfield prospect in the Braves system. He will get a longer runway to find his footing in Oakland, but tweeted about how disappointed he is to be leaving the Braves.
Langeliers, the other top 101 prospect, also comes with a strong pedigree, but also the risk of being a catcher in a changing game. He reached Triple-A at the end of the 2021 season and could be ready to make his debut as soon as this fall.