We have our answer. The Braves just traded half their farm system – slight exaggeration, but only slight – for Matt Olson. He’s a first baseman. You don’t make such a move if you believe you’ll re-sign Freddie Freeman. You make this deal only if you know he’s headed elsewhere.
As difficult as the acknowledgment that Freeman is leaving is, the advent of Olson lessens the pain. He turns 28 in April. He’s under team control for two more seasons. He’s from Atlanta. He played at Parkview High. His WAR, as calculated by Baseball-Reference, over the past four seasons is 15.3.
Freeman is 32. His bWAR over the past four seasons is 17.2. He’s the most distinguished Brave since Chipper Jones. In a perfect world, he’d have been a Brave forever.
The Braves sent two of their Round 1 picks in the past three drafts – catcher Shea Langeliers and pitcher Ryan Cusick – plus outfielder Cristian Pache and pitcher Joey Estes to Oakland for Olson. According to MLB.com, those are the Braves’ Nos. 1, 2, 6 and 14 prospects. That’s a load. That means the Braves’ farm system, ranked 27th best by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, will slide even closer to the bottom.
But that’s OK. The days of the Braves’ rebuild are gone. In case you missed it, they won the 2021 World Series. Under Alex Anthopoulos, they’ve finished first in the National League East four years running. Landing Olson keeps them in position to win more. Losing Freeman without a replacement of All-Star caliber would have imperiled that streak. Essentially swapping Olson for Freeman is as fast a fix as you’ll find. It came so fast that Freeman hasn’t yet signed with another team.
As was mentioned in this space, the Braves’ general manager is darn good at knowing how much is too much and especially, when it comes to contracts, how long is too long. Had the Braves matched the Twins’ offer of a four-year deal for Josh Donaldson after the 2019 season, the Bringer of Rain would surely have re-upped here. Anthopoulos didn’t match. Minnesota finished last in the American League Central in 2021. On Monday, it traded Donaldson to the Yankees.
Freeman is believed to want a six-year deal. That the Braves just traded for a first baseman stands as proof they weren’t willing to offer that many. Such a stance shouldn’t be characterized as a slap in Freeman’s face. Many of the most regrettable contracts in recent years have been lengthy deals to first basemen of a certain age.
For the Braves to have said, “We know Freeman will be just as great in 2027″ would have been a flight of fancy. Who’s the last baseball player who was better at 37 than at 32? (The list begins and ends with Charlie Morton, who’s not a first baseman.) It’s understandable that Freeman, who by accepting an eight-year extension in 2014 signed away his first years of free agency, wants to see what the market would bear. The Braves were under no obligation to offer market price.
For Braves fans, this isn’t a happy day. Anthopoulos told reporters it “was the hardest transaction I’ve ever had to make.” Being a GM means you’re forever weighing the costs of what you do and what you don’t. The Braves couldn’t let Freeman leave without having a first baseman of similar worth. Not to sound crass, but they can let him leave now.
If that sounds cold, it shouldn’t. These fingers haven’t and won’t type anything but glowing words re: Frederick Charles Freeman. He’s a great player. He’s a great guy. Were money no object, he’d have been a Brave for life. In professional sports, money is never not an object. The Braves didn’t feel they could give their most decorated player all he wanted, so they made a massive deal to find his replacement.
It’s possible the Braves overspent, in terms of talent, for Olson. Anthopoulos, though, has been here long enough to grasp where his club sits in the baseball universe. The Braves are in win-it-all-again mode. Much of their core – Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley, Max Fried, Ian Anderson, maybe Mike Soroka – is 28 or younger. So’s Olson.
Will we miss Freeman? Absolutely. We might miss him a bit less if Olson is April’s NL player of the month.