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Braves sign new first baseman Matt Olson to $168M deal

Sep 16, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson (28) reacts during the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

New first baseman Matt Olson arrived to spring training to meet his new Atlanta Braves teammates Tuesday and was welcomed with an eight-year, $168 million contract.

Even as Freddie Freeman’s footprints remain on the reigning World Series champions, the Braves made it clear Monday they needed to take steps to fortify the position based on expectations Freeman would sign elsewhere in free agency.

Atlanta did not sign Freeman to a long-term deal before the 99-day lockout began, opening the door for Freeman, 32, to explore other options.

An Atlanta native, Olson’s contract pays him $15 million in 2022 and includes a team option for 2030. The Braves made the unusual step of announcing the details of the contract, including Olson’s commitment to donate $1.68 million to Braves Charities.

It might take him time to break through with the fan base losing the beloved Freeman, who’d been the face of the franchise for more than a decade.

Freeman’s future is not certain, but the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees all are in the mix for the left-handed slugger.

In addition to losing Freeman, the Braves paid a steep price in prospects to pry Olson from the A’s. Oakland received outfielder Cristian Pache, catcher Shea Langeliers, and right-handed pitchers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes. Pache was the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, Langeliers is No. 2, Cusick is No. 6 and Estes is No. 14, according to MLB.com.

Without naming Freeman, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he’s never made a trade with this much emotion attached to it.

“Not even close,” he said.

“Every day it felt like it was getting harder to wait,” Anthopoulos said. “This was the first thing that made sense for us as hard as it was to do.”

Olson, 27, played five-plus seasons with the A’s. A two-time Gold Glove winner, Olson was a first-time All-Star in 2021 and finished eighth in American League MVP balloting.

Olson had a stellar season in 2021, batting .271, and tallying 35 doubles, 39 home runs and 111 RBIs — all career highs — in 156 games. He struck own 113 times, slashing 50 off his career high of 163 in 2018.

Freeman spent his entire 12-year MLB career with the Braves, who did not lock him up to a new deal before the owners locked out the players in December.

The Braves signed Freeman to an eight-year deal in 2014 that paid him $135 million. Entering free agency, the highest-paid first baseman in terms of average annual value is Paul Goldschmidt of the Cardinals at $26 million per season. Joey Votto’s contract with the Reds is worth $22.5 million per season.

Freeman batted .300 with 31 homers, 83 RBIs and a league-leading 120 runs in 159 games in 2021. He hit .318 with two homers and five RBIs in the six-game World Series triumph over the Houston Astros, Atlanta’s first title since 1995.

He is a lifetime .295/.384/.509 hitter with 271 home runs and 941 RBIs in 1,565 games.

–Field Level Media