Slow news day, huh? Not much going on, eh? Well, other than the fact that the Braves may have just completed one of the most important trades that they’ve swung in a long, long time. It’s not just important because of who’s involved with this trade but it’s also very important because of who isn’t in this deal and what that means going forward. Either way, things are never going to be the same going forward and it remains to be seen whether it’s for better or for worse.
The good news is that if you’re going to have this sort of massive change that the Braves are going to see at first base, then you could hardly do worse than Matt Olson. In the article where I talked about Atlanta’s first base situation, I mentioned that the Braves would still be in a bit of a situation even if they traded for Olson because of the fact that they could end up being in a situation where they need to re-sign a 30-something-year-old first baseman. However, that’s a situation for the future and something that I’m sure Alex Anthopolous has had on his mind when he swung this deal. For now, the long and short of it is that Matt Olson just made the defending World Series champions even better.
The Braves just got younger at first base, they arguably got better at first base, they saved a bit of money in the short-term and could now use those savings to go out and make another acquisition in order to fill another hole at, say, center field. Other than the fact that the Braves traded away a couple of really good prospects in Shea Langeliers, Cristian Pache and 2021 first round pick Ryan Cusick, this is a trade that puts Atlanta firmly in the conversation to repeat as World Series champions in 2022. If they were going to lose and/or move on from Freddie Freeman, acquiring Matt Olson was a must and they’ve done just that. Even if the Braves did in fact prove the rumors right that Oakland was asking for the moon and the stars in exchange for Olson, the fact of the matter is that this is the cost of business if you want to keep on being the boss.
Again, I can’t stress enough just how big of a deal it is that the Braves now have Matt Olson playing first base for them. If you’re going to move on from an elite hitter like Freddie Freeman, then adding an elite hitter like Matt Olson is the perfect replacement. He’s also showing signs that even though he’s already a great hitter, he can still improve. It was a huge deal for Olson in 2021 that he maintained his walk percentage of around 13 percent while cutting his strikeout percentage down from 31.4 percent in 2020 to just 16.8 percent in 2021. While ZiPS figures that his strikeout rate will level out to somewhere in the very low 20 percent range in 2022, it also figures that his walk rate will stay near 13 percent.
All of that is an extremely fair trade for the fact that Matt Olson can hit for a ton of power. Last season, he finished 12th on the Isolated Power leaderboard among all qualified hitters. His ISO of .269 put him in league with the likes of Salvador Perez, Nick “There’s a drive into deep left field by” Castellanos and our good ol’ friend Adam Duvall. He also finished 2021 with a wOBA of .379, which put him on equal footing with guys like Austin Riley, Max Muncy and — wait for it — Freddie Freeman. Matt Olson also managed to hit for 146 wRC+ and 36 home runs while playing his home games at the Oakland Coliseum. The Stomping Grounds in Oakland had a park factor of .882 last season last season, meaning that Matt Olson was crushing the baseball while hitting in a pitcher’s paradise. Meanwhile, the ballpark in Cobb County had a park factor of 1.109, which implies that Matt Olson is going to have a field day in his new home stadium.
He’s also going to be entering a lineup with a bunch of other heavy hitters in it. This lineup at full strength will be an absolute marvel to watch when healthy and clicking. Matt Olson will be joining a crew that already included Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies and Marcell Ozuna. If the Braves stick by their word and continue to add payroll, then there could be another name to add to this list before the season begins. Either way, the Braves now have a pretty loaded lineup that can swing with anybody in baseball. That’s been the case for the past couple of seasons now and bar a calamity reminiscent of what happened to the Braves during the first three-quarters of the 2021 season, a powerful lineup will be Atlanta’s reality in 2022 as well.
There’s not really much else to say when it comes to Matt Olson. He can hit the ball a ton, he’s getting more and more patient as a hitter which implies that he’s still improving, he’s moving from a pitcher-friendly ballpark to a hitter-friendly ballpark, and he’s entering a lineup that has a ton of protection for him in it. Aside from the fact that he’s replacing one of the biggest fan favorites in the history of the Atlanta Braves, the addition of Matt Olson is a huge positive for the Braves. The loss of prospects may sting, but if you’re trading for a guy like Olson, it is one hundred percent worth it. There’s still some work left to be done when it comes to this lineup (and maybe the rotation as well) but the Braves have gotten themselves out of the corner when it comes to their first base situation and they are doing some major swinging now.
When it comes to Freddie Freeman, I promise you that we’ll talk more about him later. While there’s a slight chance that Alex Anthopolous could be playing some 4D chess here where he’s planning to move Freddie Freeman to DH while completely and utterly banishing defense to the shadow realm, this move means that Freddie Freeman is very likely not coming back. If you’re angry or sad about that, then it’s completely understandable. This is a very weird day when it comes to being an emotional fan! There’s no doubt that the Braves have made a fantastic move by bringing in Matt Olson but as I said earlier, things are not going to be the same without seeing ol’ number five making stretches at first base. If you’re going to mourn, take the night to do so. Joy comes in the morning, though.