Since taking over as the head of the Atlanta Braves’ Front Office, Alex Anthopoulos has been reluctant to cash in his chips on a major trade. That doesn’t mean, though, that he has been afraid to supplement the roster, as he did most notably at the 2021 Trade Deadline, where he swung a series of moves that propelled the Braves to a World Series championship. Still, those moves were made for players on expiring contracts often for spare parts.
That all changed on Monday, though, when Anthopoulos pushed some major chips to the middle of the table and acquired first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland Athletics. The Braves are sending catcher Shea Langeliers, outfielder Cristian Pache and right-handers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes back to Oakland. Anthopoulos discussed the move with reporters Monday afternoon at the team’s Spring Training complex in North Port and appeared to be choking back tears while saying this was the hardest transaction he has ever had to make.
“So obviously, we made a trade today. We traded for Matt Olson to play first base, and we are excited to have him,” Anthopoulos said. “That’s obviously tough to part with a lot of good young talent but, it’s been tough. It’s been a challenging offseason, just with having a short amount of time, games starting Friday. First base has been something we’ve been wanting to settle and it felt like it needed to be the first domino for our offseason, because we have other things to do. I know every team’s going through the same thing, trying to build their team. So, a tough trade to make really. Trading that much talent is really tough, but I’m excited about Matt joining the club.”
Olson will turn 28 at the end of the month. He is coming off of a banner season for Oakland where he hit .271/.371/.540 with 39 home runs and a 146 wRC+. He is regarded as a good defensive first baseman and is a local kid, having played high school at Parkview. He is arbitration-eligible this offseason and is under team control through the end of 2023.
“He’s obviously a very good player, think the performance speaks for itself,” Anthopoulos said of Olson. “Defense, offense, we know the makeup, the person, the character. He certainly checks all those boxes. One of the best first baseman in the game and that’s why it’s was so expensive. We’re excited to have him.”
The Braves have been quiet for most of the offseason as Freddie Freeman’s free agency continued to hang over the club. Things started slowly coming out of the lockout, but Anthopoulos admitted that there was a sense of urgency to fill some holes on the roster.
“Today, things just accelerated and we got to the point where we had something that we could do,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s a tough decision to make to say ‘yes,’ but we ultimately made that decision. It just allows us to move on in the offseason. We have other holes to fill on the team and it just kept every day felt like it was getting harder to wait because of the other areas we have to fill. Ronald Acuña likely can’t play the field until late May at this point and we have to figure out some outfield and some other spots.”
Atlanta currently has glaring needs in the outfield and especially in center field. If Acuña is unable to play the field until May, that adds additional complications. The team could also use a veteran starter for the rotation and needs to rebuild its bench.
Of course, the trade comes at a price. Atlanta isn’t just sending back four of its top prospects; the deal also signals the end of the Freddie Freeman era in Atlanta. Anthopoulos wouldn’t discuss Freeman directly, citing league rules about discussing free agents, but was clearly emotional.
“I’ve been here four years, I’m entering my fifth, this is the hardest decision and transaction that I’ve had to make.”
Freeman was a second round pick of the Braves in 2007. He has spent 12 years in a Braves uniform and capped off that run by helping them win the World Series in 2021. If that is the last memory we have of Freeman in Atlanta, it is a good one to go out on.