Braves sign new 1B Matt Olson to 8-year, $168 million contract

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — One day after cutting ties with Freddie Freeman, the Atlanta Braves signed new first baseman Matt Olson to an eight-year, $168 million contract.

Olson was not eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season, but the World Series champions quickly locked down the 27-year-old slugger through at least 2029. The deal also includes a $20 million club option for 2030 with no buyout.

With a stunning bit of wheeling and dealing, the Braves addressed their potential hole at first base after failing to reach a deal with Freeman, who led the team for more than a decade and played a huge role in Atlanta capturing its first World Series championship since 1995.

The Braves dealt four top prospects to the Oakland Athletics for Olson, a 2021 All-Star coming off a season in which he had 39 homers and 111 RBIs while batting .271.

Olson will make $15 million this year, $21 million in 2023 and $22 million in each of the following six seasons.

It was the 10th contract of at least $100 million agreed to since the end of the World Series and the first since Major League Baseball’s 99-day lockout ended last week,

The payout is the largest in Braves’ history, surpassing the $135 million, eight-year deal that Freeman signed after the 2013 season.

Atlanta was not willing to make that sort of long-term commitment again to Freeman, who is 32. But, with a younger player who was willing to take less money per year that his predecessor is reportedly seeking, the Braves agreed to the sort of lengthy deal they weren’t prepared to give Freeman.

Olson, who turns 28 on March 29, flew from Arizona to the Braves spring training camp in Venice, Florida, where the team announced his new contract at an introductory news conference.

Olson knows he has some huge shoes to fill in Atlanta, where Freeman was a clubhouse leader and one of the team’s most popular players.

A career .295 hitter, Freeman surpassed 20 homers eight times with a career-high 38 in 2019. He has a pair of 100-RBI seasons on his resume, and three other years where he drove in more than 90 runs. He won the NL MVP award in 2020, finished in the top 10 of the balloting five other times, in addition to claiming three Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove for his defensive work.

Freeman has yet to sign with a new team, with speculation focusing on two big-money clubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.

“Freddie is obviously an amazing player,” Olson told reporters. “It’s just not going to affect what I come here and do. I’m here to be Matt Olson. That’s all I can really control.”

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos moved boldly to bolster the lineup when it became apparent Sunday night that Freeman was likely to sign elsewhere.

Atlanta dealt four of its top 20 prospects, including outfielder Cristian Pache and projected catcher of the future Shea Langeliers. The Braves also surrendered pitchers Ryan Cusick, a 2021 first-round pick, and Joey Estes.

But it was all worth it to Anthopoulos when a new contract for Olson came together after a marathon negotiating session with his agent. B.B. Abbott.

Olson is a two-time Gold Glove winner with a .252 career average, 142 homers and an .859 OPS over six seasons. Last season, he finished eighth in AL MVP voting, establishing himself as one of the game’s top first basemen.

“A really exciting day for us,” Anthopoulos said. “We worked on it all day, all night. I haven’t gotten a whole lot of sleep.”

The GM said he was thrilled that Olson, a native of suburban Atlanta, will be a long-term part of a group of young stars that also includes Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Max Fried.

“For you wanting to commit, to be with us and be here, and be part of this core, is exceptionally exciting,” Anthopoulos said to Olson at the news conference. “Hopefully were going to continue to be a very competitive club.”

Others who agreed to nine-figure deals include Texas shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million), Tampa Bay infielder Wander Franco ($182 million), Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million), Detroit infielder Javier Baez ($140 million), Toronto right-hander Jose Berrios ($131 million), Mets right-hander Max Scherzer ($130 million), Seattle left-hander Robbie Ray ($115 million), Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman ($110 million) and Minnesota centerfielder Byron Buxton ($100 million).

Anthony Volpe, 21, wins Yankees’ starting shortstop job

Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sp

TAMPA, Fla. — Anthony Volpe grew up watching Derek Jeter star at shortstop for the New York Yankees.

Now, the 21-year-old is getting the chance to be the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop against the San Francisco Giants.

The team announced after a 6-2 win over Toronto in spring training that Volpe had won the spot. New York manager Aaron Boone called the kid into his office to deliver the news.

“My heart was beating pretty hard,” said Volpe, rated one of baseball’s best prospects. “Incredible. I’m just so excited. It’s hard for me to even put into words.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, hitting coach Dillon Lawson and bench coach Carlos Mendoza were also present.

Volpe was able to share the news with his parents and other family members near the Yankees’ dugout and said it is something he will never forget.

“It was pretty emotional,” Volpe said. “It was just an unbelievable moment to share with them.”

Volpe, who grew up a Yankees fan, lived in Manhattan as a child before moving to New Jersey. Jeter was his favorite player.

“It’s very surreal,” Volpe said. “I’ve only ever been to games at Yankee Stadium and for the most part only watched him play there.”

Volpe is hitting .314 with three homers, five RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage in 17 Grapefruit League games. He has just 22 games of experience at Triple-A.

Spring training started with Volpe, Oswald Peraza and holdover Isiah Kiner-Falefa competing for the everyday shortstop job. Kiner-Falefa was shifted into a utility role midway through camp, and Peraza was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“While certainly the performance was there, he killed it between the lines,” Boone said of Volpe. “All the other things that we’ve been hearing about showed up. There’s an energy he plays the game with, and an instinct that he has that is evident. He really checked every box that we could have had for him. Absolutely kicked the door in and earned his opportunity.”

Volpe arrived in Florida in December to work out at the Yankees’ minor league complex.

“He’s earned the right to take that spot, and we’re excited for him and excited for us,” Cashman said. “He just dominated all sides of the ball during February and March, and that bodes well obviously for him as we move forward.”

Volpe was selected out of high school with the 30th overall pick in the 2019 draft from Delbarton School in New Jersey. He passed up a college commitment to Vanderbilt to sign with the Yankees.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get into the organization,” Volpe said. “This day, this feeling, this moment was kind of what I’ve worked my whole life for when I made that big decision.”

“Right now it’s crazy,” he added. “I don’t even know what lies ahead but Thursday I just want to go out and play, and have fun.”