Olson pushes out Freeman from Atlanta
The first baseman has all but rid the team's leader from the defending champs.
Obviously, not one soul in the Atlanta Braves front office cares about pitcher Tyler Matzek’s opinion regarding the team roster.
Matzek, 31 and one of the Braves’ key cogs down the line in their World Series triumph, stated only one thing about this offseason’s free agency: he wants Freddie Freeman, the clubs first baseman and one of the best in the game, back on the club to try to run it back.
That doesn’t seem likely anymore, since Matt Olson, an Atlanta native, will be heading back home to occupy first base in a trade from the selling Oakland Athletics. He goes to the Braves in exchange, for four prospects, Shea Langeliers (C), Christian Pache (OF), Ryan Custick and Joey Estes, both righties and both pitchers. Pache and Langeliers are the biggest pieces the Braves are giving up, the former a 24-year-old who started to play for them last season and has been a top prospect in MLB for years now, while the latter, also 24, is one of the top catching prospects, and is Atlanta’s best.
But the Braves sensed that Freeman wasn’t coming back, and they would want to patch up the hole at first as soon as possible. Olson, Gold Glover times two, may be in the same stratosphere as Freeman. He’s anchored the position in Oakland since 2017, half of the best corner duo in the league with third baseman Matt Chapman. Olson, though, has been the better slugger of the two when they aren’t on defence. Obviously, that’s bigger for a first baseman than a player on the hot corner, but still 39 home runs is nothing to be messed with. That total in 2021 was a career high. His exit velocity in 2021 was a lighter 91.6 miles per hour, but his max EV went all the way up to 115.6 MPH. This is a guy with pure power. The site where I got those numbers, Baseball Savant, has a cool feature where you can load a random video of the player. Do that for Olson, select ‘HR’ for home run and you can see his glorious swing. Arms way out into the batters box, bat up, and the smallest swing ends up in a huge hit. How? He just has the power.
The lanky Olson has some ability on defence as well. Sure, whenever the ball goes to third, Olson has an easy job since Chapman almost always throws a bullseye. He has 15 outs above average in his career, meaning he spreads himself from the pack of first basemen. Overall, this trade is a good one for Atlanta. Giving up so much, especially a top outfield prospect is tough, but the fact is, Olson is only 27, his earliest free agency period is 2024, and he recorded 5.8 wins in 2021. Atlanta should be able to distance themselves as defending champs from the rest of the weak National League East, but getting more home games in the postseason is always a good thing.
This move, though, opens up the table for Freddie Freeman. The free agent has been attracting fanfare from the Dodgers, Rays, Yankees (of course), as well as the Blue Jays, the lone team from the country Freeman calls home. Freeman is a leader and a legend in Atlanta, he guided them through some really tough years and it all ended up paying off in 2021 after beating the Houston Astros in the Fall Classic.
Freeman, 32, recorded 31 home runs in 2021, coupling well with his .300/.303/.503 slash line, a pretty good pair. He comes close to playing every game each season, three short of the full 162 in ‘21, and struck out 107 times in 695 plate appearances in the campaign. The 2020 NL MVP (something worth noting) is in the top 3% of a lot of advanced metrics, including xwOBA, per MLB.com, “is formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed.” Weighted stats are always good stats. He is top 10% in max EV, EVen better than Olson (I apologise, that was a horrible joke), and xSLG, which should explain itself.
Freeman leads with example, wins awards, and holds down first base, where his big self lends tremendously.
Now that Olson is in Atlanta, it’s hard to see Freeman go back. If there was one team who would go out and get him, it would likely be the LA Dodgers, since they will need a first baseman and always love buying superstars.
Olson going home is a perfect example of what will be a big ripple effect. Who won the trade? It’s tough. Right now, Atlanta. Down the line, maybe Atlanta also. Since Olson is under 30 he’ll be able to produce for a long time. Then again, if Langeliers and Pache are for real, Oakland could build a franchise around them. It’s almost too close to call. As we speak, though, Atlanta is looking good on their title defence. Even if Tyler Matzek doesn’t like it.