NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos was thrilled to acquire Matt Olson. But he still had to fight back tears while announcing this trade, which ended Freddie Freeman’s legendary tenure with Atlanta.
The Braves acquired Olson from the A’s on Monday in exchange for two highly regarded prospects -- catcher Shea Langeliers and outfielder Cristian Pache -- plus right-handed pitchers Ryan Cusick (last year’s first-round Draft selection) and Joey Estes.
“This is the hardest decision and transaction I’ve had to make,” Anthopoulos said multiple times while feeling excited about Olson’s arrival and dejected about having to bid adieu to Freeman’s talent and great personality.
The Braves made a five-year, $135 million offer to Freeman last summer and were willing to slightly increase the dollars this offseason. But with the expectation that the Yankees and Dodgers would be willing to offer more, the waiting game progressed and reached a tipping point on Sunday night, when Anthopoulos felt he had to move on to ensure Atlanta entered the upcoming season with an elite first baseman.
Olson fits that description, and he now has a chance to showcase his great talents back home. The left-handed slugger is a 2012 graduate of suburban Atlanta’s Parkview High School, the rival of Brookwood High School, which Braves manager Brian Snitker’s kids attended.
“When you’re talking about trade deals, they’re supposed to hurt, and it hurts,” Anthopoulos said. “This is the most talent we’ve traded since I’ve been in Atlanta. These guys are all really good and they were all really tough to move. But obviously, Matt is a fantastic player, too. You have to give to get.”
In the soon-to-be-updated club prospect rankings from MLB Pipeline, Langeliers was poised to rank No. 1 on Atlanta’s top 30, with Pache at No. 3. But this is the price the Braves had to pay for Olson, who ranked first among all American League first basemen with the 13.2 fWAR he produced from 2018-21.
Freeman led MLB first basemen with a 16.9 fWAR over this span of four seasons. But he is five years older and he was likely going to be about $18 million more expensive this year. Olson is arbitration-eligible these next two seasons and would be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season.
The Braves could attempt to give Olson a chance to remain in his hometown for more than two seasons. The first baseman is represented by B.B. Abbott, whose talented stable of players has continued to grow since it once included both Chipper Jones and Brian McCann.
Within the next 10 years, Jones, McCann and Freeman may all be in the club’s Hall of Fame. But as the Braves move on from another legend, they may be able to account for much of his production via Olson, who hit .271 with 39 homers and a .911 OPS for the A’s last year.
Olson has hit at least 29 homers in each of the past three seasons that consisted of 162 games. He produced a 37-homer pace during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
“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 are trading for now and you’re trading for down the road. Obviously, Matt’s track record speaks for itself. He’s one of the elite players in the game.”
Langeliers is considered one of the game’s top young catchers. The 24-year-old prospect possesses a rocket arm, and he hit 22 homers at the Double-A level last year. The Baylor University product was taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, and he ranks as baseball’s No. 68 prospect, per MLB Pipeline.
Pache was Atlanta’s starting center fielder at the beginning of last season, and he is considered to be a potential future Gold Glove Award winner. The 23-year-old outfielder ranked among baseball’s top 20 prospects before the start of the 2021 season. But his offensive struggles at both the MLB and Triple-A levels lessened his value.
Cusick was taken with the 24th overall selection in last summer’s Draft. The Wake Forest product posted a 2.76 ERA in six appearances for Low-A Augusta last year. Estes posted a 2.91 ERA and recorded 127 strikeouts while issuing 29 walks in 99 innings for the same Augusta club.
While the prospect cost was significant, Anthopoulos knows many Braves fans will view Freeman as the most significant cost of this deal. But Olson has the capability to also eventually become a beloved figure within his hometown.
“There’s a lot of criticism that comes with [this job],” Anthopoulos said. “That’s just part of the territory. No one enjoys it. But this is my 11th year as a GM. I’ve lived through a lot of it. I’ve always maintained I have to do what’s best for the organization.”