VENICE, Fla. — Atlanta’s trade for Matt Olson was designed to ensure the defending World Series champion Braves will be contenders in 2022.
Signing Olson to an eight-year deal only one day later was the foundation of a plan by general manager Alex Anthopoulos to keep Atlanta competitive through the decade.
As soon as it became clear the Braves and Freddie Freeman wouldn’t reach a deal, Anthopoulos shifted to a new a long-term strategy.
“That was the thought,” Anthopoulos told The Associated Press on Thursday, adding he believed it was crucial the new contract for Olson be finalized before the introductory news conference for the first baseman.
The Braves traded four prospects to Oakland for Olson on March 14. One day later, the team announced the $168 million, eight-year deal that keeps the first baseman in Atlanta at least through 2029. It is the largest contract in Braves history.
Anthopoulos said his first offer to Olson, who turns 28 this Tuesday, was for seven years and $140 million. The GM said he believed it was important to keep the annual payout at $20 million “so we could build the roster around him.”
Anthopoulos said he also believed it was crucial that Braves players knew this was a long-term response to the void left by the 32-year-old Freeman.
“We worked all day, all night and we were motivated to have it done by the press conference,” Anthopoulos said. “If that meant we were going to give a little bit more to get it done, we thought it was important for the clubhouse, for the organization.”
For the clubhouse?
“I just think knowing that he’s here,” Anthopoulos said. “Just everyone knowing that he’s here to stay. I think it allows him to settle in a little bit more.”
Olson knows he will be measured by the standard set by Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP and face of the franchise who signed a $162 million, six-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Olson says he will not let those expectations, or the legacy left by Freeman, cast a shadow over his play.
“I think it’s a thing right from the start that you really can’t look into a lot,” Olson said. “I have nothing but respect for him. He’s a hell of a player but I just came into the situation. I didn’t have any say in what happened before. I’m going to go out there and do what I can to help this team win. I want to come here and try to mesh with the guys and go out and play some good baseball.”
From his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame to his left-handed swing to his modest but friendly demeanor, Olson seems to be cut from the Freeman mold.
“We know his track record,” reliever Will Smith said. “We know the back of his baseball card is pretty great. Anybody that’s got a Gold Glove, as a pitcher I’m a fan of. I’m excited to have him back there.”
Olson already has shown the powerful, left-handed swing and strong defense that made him an All-Star with the A’s in 2021, when he hit .271 with 39 homers and 111 RBIs. He won Gold Gloves in 2018 and 2019.
Olson likely won’t match Freeman’s .295 career batting average, but his power bat fits nicely in Atlanta’s lineup. Olson hit second on Friday against the Boston Red Sox, ahead of Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna.
“It’s going to be a lineup where we can kind of get the matchups we want,” said manager Brian Snitker. “… It’s a pretty deep lineup.”
Anthopoulos saw a lot to like in Olson.
“His performance obviously has been very strong,” Anthopoulos said. “Everything we heard about the person and the makeup was off the charts. So an easy guy to invest in. The acquisition cost and the prospects were very expensive and the extension was expensive, but he’s a special player and those are the guys you do it for.”
For Olson, signing with the Braves was a homecoming. He is from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb. That adds to his anticipation for the Braves’ season opener at home on April 7 against Cincinnati.
“I’ve been saying the stars aligned perfectly,” Olson said. “There’s so many factors that were positives here, No. 1 being a good team that won the World Series. That’s something I want to do more than anything, so the roster that was here and being able to be at home around family and friends,” he said.
“It was something I wanted to be a part of, to be a part of this winning culture and get a taste of it myself.”