The reality is Freeman will soon play for another team for the first time in his career. The Braves must move on – though Olson is a great player who will help them do so. Anthopoulos said he’s never had as much emotion tied to a move as this one. “Not even close,” he added.
“Tough deal,” the GM said multiple times while speaking to reporters outside the Braves’ clubhouse at CoolToday Park.
And on Monday, Olson, who was in Arizona for Oakland’s spring training, told reporters: “There was obviously a lot of noise about it. I knew there was the potential of something happening. I can’t say enough about the A’s organization and what they’ve done for me. I’ve been here since 2012, so almost 10 years, my whole baseball career. It’s bittersweet leaving. Obviously, I know Atlanta is an amazing place. World Series champs. My hometown. If there was one place to go and leave here, that’s the place to do it. I’m excited about it.”
“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. Tough trade to make."
As much as this trade might have hurt for Anthopoulos, he explained it with reason – and it made some sense. He couldn’t get into specifics, but this seemed like a timing issue. As Freeman’s situation dragged on, perhaps it became clear the Braves would not re-sign him. But they couldn’t afford to not capitalize on their window to contend, which they clearly still believe is wide open.
“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,” Anthopoulos said. “I know every team’s going through the same thing, trying to build their team. Tough trade to make.”
The Braves have other needs. For example, Anthopoulos said, Ronald Acuña Jr. likely won’t play in the field until late May. Atlanta also tried to make moves to bolster its rotation and bullpen. The Braves looked at certain position players. The Olson trade, the GM said, was the first move that made sense to the organization, as difficult as it was to make.
In 12 seasons with the Braves, Freeman, selected in the second round of the 2007 draft, totaled 1,704 hits, 271 home runs and 941 RBIs. He hit .295 with an .893 on-base plus slugging percentage. He also played great defense and was the clubhouse leader for a young group that won the World Series last year.
To be clear: Olson, a slugger, is the best first baseman the Braves could have acquired to replace Freeman. He’s an All-Star who has won two Gold Glove Awards. He’s posted a career .859 on-base plus slugging percentage and has blasted 142 home runs since 2016. At 28 years old, he’s almost 5 years younger than Freeman.
But to Braves fans, he’s not Freddie Freeman – no one is.
That’s the tough part. Olson is a stud but will face unreasonable expectations because of the shoes he’s filling.
“He’s obviously a very good player,” Anthopoulos said of Olson. “I think the performance speaks for itself. Defense, offense, the makeup, the person, the character. He certainly checks all those boxes. One of the best first basemen in the game. That’s why it was so expensive. We’re excited to have him.”
Olson is under team control for this season and the next. Anthopoulos opted not to discuss the Braves’ chances of extending him, but the price paid Monday would look ugly if the club couldn’t make Olson its long-term first baseman.
“When you’re talking about fair deals, I guess they’re supposed to hurt,” Anthopoulos said. “It hurts. This is the most talent that we’ve traded since I’ve been in Atlanta, this is the best group of players, all of the above.”
Anthopoulos said his work isn’t done. More specifically, he said the Braves’ payroll, estimated to be $145 million by RosterResource, will go up this season. Olson will be cheaper than Freeman, which allows the Braves to also allocate those funds elsewhere.
The GM said there’s a limit to how high the Braves’ payroll will go, but he didn’t specify. They have holes. They must fill out their outfield, and they could use another starting pitcher.
“Whatever resources we have, I’m going to do my best to put the best club on the field,” he said. “But that means making some tough calls.”
As Braves manager Brian Snitker spoke with media on the field at CoolToday Park following the Braves’ first official workout of spring training, one reporter delivered the shocking news that had just broken moments before: The Braves had acquired Olson which, everyone understood even then, meant Freeman was all but gone.
“Well,” Snitker said, pausing for a couple seconds to digest it. “Really, it’s new for me. I’ve been out here for the last two-and-a-half hours.”
This scene – the Braves manager and Freeman’s longtime friend finding out about this trade in this way – symbolized the shock value in this move. It came out of nowhere. Olson always seemed like he could be the Braves’ top target if they lost Freeman. But no one expected this move to occur before Freeman even departed.
Braves fans would normally celebrate a move like this, one in which their team acquired a player of Olson’s caliber. But this move will come with mixed feelings because of the other end.
It certainly did for the general manager, who showed the emotion that told you all you needed to know: He wanted anything but to officially move on from his beloved franchise player. But he eventually needed to put emotion aside.
“With where we are as a club right now, coming off the World Series, I think we still feel good about a very competitive, contending club,” Anthopoulos said. “You’re trading for now, and you’re trading down the road.”