Olson is center of long-term plan to keep Braves competitive

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
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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.”

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.