It is hard to envision the Atlanta Braves without Freddie Freeman at first base. After all, he’s made approximately 91 percent of the 1,620 starts at first dating back to his first full season in 2011. That is a lot of baseball games, and Freddie has been the lone constant in the organization dating back to more than a decade ago. And now he’s a World Series champion.
As you may have also heard, Freddie Freeman is a free agent. It seemed unlikely we would get to this point, but here we are, awaiting the resolution of the CBA negotiations and the resumption of offseason activity. It seems likely numerous teams will be interested in the ever-consistent Freeman, especially if the designated hitter is on the horizon.
Many around the game expect Freddie to ultimately return to Atlanta. But if he does not, Alex Anthopoulos and the front office will need to quickly adjust to fill a massive need at first base. There are seemingly no internal options, meaning they'd need to either hit the free agent market or swing a trade. The top trade candidate? Matt Olson.
Olson, who is the third most famous Parkview High School alumni behind Talking Chop’s Brad Rowland and Jeff Francoeur (in that specific order), is really good. He gets overlooked playing in Oakland where the final out is often recorded well after midnight in Atlanta, but it’s hard to find many hitters as complete as Olson.
Olson’s 2021: .271/.371/.540, 13.1 BB%, 16.3 K%, 39 HR, 146 wRC+, .379 xwOBA
Freeman’s 2021: .300/.391/.503, 12.2 BB%, 15.4 K%, 31 HR, 135 wRC+, .416 xwOBA
Their career numbers are similar, too, with Olson checking in with a 132 wRC+ and Freeman at 138. Olson really improved his strike zone discipline in 2021 as he significantly lowered his strikeout numbers while hitting for absurd power. He’s always been a high on-base guy. Both players are projected for a 140 wRC+ next season via Steamer projections.
Olson will turn 28 in a couple of months, making him 4.5 years younger than Freeman. He’s under contract control for another two years via arbitration (assuming the new CBA doesn’t adjust his current situation) and is projected to earn a healthy $12 million in 2022 and, presumably, $17-20 million in 2023. It would seem whichever team has Olson for the next two years will be getting him in the peak of his prime.
Every team seeking a first baseman will be all over Olson once the offseason resumes. It seems likely (guaranteed?) Anthopoulos has already made a phone call to discuss a basic framework of a deal. After all, teams are only going to have a couple of weeks to finalize their rosters once the new CBA is agreed upon. Oakland is in a tough division with the Astros, Mariners, Angels and free-spending Rangers, and a rebuild seems likely for Billy Beane’s club. The A’s front office also knows it can get a lot for Olson, and every day the club holds onto him, the less the asking price becomes.
It’s not easy to predict what a trade package would look like given the way the Athletics operate. And by all means feel free to opine in the comments what you would give up. It would not be cheap for the Braves to pluck Olson away, but if Freeman signs elsewhere, they may be willing to pay the premium.