During this past offseason, news broke that Atlanta Braves legend Freddie Freeman was not planning on re-signing with Atlanta, but instead planned to take his talents out west to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This news came not long after Freeman led the Braves to their first world series win since 1995. The reactions across Brave’s country were interesting.
When the news broke, the Braves knew it would be heading into the 2022 season with a question mark at the first base position. Losing a player of that caliber would create a ripple effect in any locker room. The play on the field will be missed, but the intangibles and leadership skills are the hardest to replace.
Due to the loss of Freeman, players such as Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson all have to take huge steps forward as leaders in the clubhouse. They are no longer the young guys following suit; they are the new faces of the franchise.
Alex Anthopoulos, who many consider to be one of the best general managers in the league, was hard at work while the rest of the MLB world was on fire.
The Atlanta Braves traded for Oakland Atheltic’s first baseman Matt Olson in March of 2022. The haul the Braves sent over included two top 100 prospects in Outfielder Christian Pache and Catcher Shea Langeliers, along with two right-handed pitchers, Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes.
They are all talented prospects that could develop into great major league players. Still, the Braves front office felt more comfortable moving forward with proven talent. In a championship window, like the Braves are, these kinds of aggressive moves are what can separate their ballclub from the rest of the league.
This trade garnered a lot of mixed reactions from both fan bases involved in the trade. Many were excited to have a player of that caliber coming over to help the Braves, while others felt what they gave up was far too much.
National writer for Baseball America, Kyle Glaser, tweeted, “Langeliers and Pache are both Top 100 Prospects, Cusick was a first-round pick last year, and Estes was a breakout low-level prospect. Big haul.”
Beat writer for the Atlanta Braves, Justin Toscano, tweeted, “Alex Anthopoulos just acquired Matt Olson, one of the best first basemen in the league, and yet he was at the point of tears. That should show you how much he and the Braves cared about Freddie Freeman.”
Let’s look at how this blockbuster trade has shaped up thus far by breaking down Matt Olson’s statistics 142 games into his first season as an Atlanta Brave.
In his first season as a Brave, Olson has exceeded expectations. In 548 at-bats, he has 131 hits, 28 home runs and 91 RBIs. Olson also boasts a .994 fielding percentage which is considered elite. Having a true five-tool player that can hit for average and power while bringing gold glove caliber defense to the lineup every night makes Matt Olson a perennial all-star.
There is a significant caveat when evaluating a trade of this caliber; the Braves knew what they were getting in Matt Olson. He has proven to be every bit of the player that was advertised, but the young prospects sent over in this trade are being brought to Oakland based on their future projections as big league players. Their stats from this season have little to no meaning when looking at the totality of this trade as the winner of this trade won’t be determined for another couple of years.
The Atlanta Braves are coming off a season in which they won the World Series and then proceeded to lose their franchise icon in the following offseason. Most front offices across the league would have folded after losing such a franchise icon and locker room presence. The ability to seamlessly replace a hole in the roster with a younger, more cost-effective player who will play out his prime in a Braves uniform makes the Braves one of the most well-run teams in the entire league.
There has been no world series hangover for the Braves, and Matt Olson is at the forefront of that. He has come into a situation where he had to fill the shoes of a franchise legend and didn’t blink at the opportunity. The Braves have picked up where they left off, fighting for the top spot in the NL East and starting to catch fire down the stretch. For a team like Atlanta looking to win, it felt like a no-brainer to add a player of Olson’s caliber, and the early returns have been positive overall.
Many fans believe the Braves should have simply resigned Freddie Freeman instead of giving up prospects to acquire his replacement. The counterargument is very compelling. Freeman is entering the season at 33 years old, and while he is still one of the best players in the league, history has shown that the decline is inevitable. Freeman also reportedly wanted to return his talents to his home state of California.
Matt Olson is 28 years old and has strikingly similar numbers offensively and defensively throughout the first five years of his career. The name of the game is always going to be getting cheaper and younger at every spot on the field. The Atlanta Braves feel they have done precisely that with this trade.