Braves’ biggest offseason questions: Is Matt Olson even the best backup plan?

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When I began this series, I said it wouldn’t include discussions regarding Freddie Freeman because that is obviously the biggest remaining question of the offseason, and we’ve talked about it plenty over the last several months. However, given the information Buster Olney provided yesterday, suggesting that the belief around the league is Freeman will not be re-signing with Atlanta, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the potential backup plan. If you missed any of the previous parts of this series, click the links below.

The Case for Matt Olson

For a number of reasons, Braves fans are hooked on the idea of Matt Olson if Freeman does sign elsewhere, which makes plenty of sense. Aside from the Braves being linked to him by several credible sources, Olson is a hometown kid, the best first base option that is potentially available and is coming off a breakout season in which he finished a homer shy of 40. If Olson joined the Braves, not only would it be a fantastic story, but you could also make the argument that the team would be in an even better position to repeat than they would be with Freeman. For the right price in terms of prospect capital, it’s a no-brainer for Alex Anthopoulos to pivot to him if Freeman signs somewhere else.

The Case Against Matt Olson

Unfortunately, prospect capital is where this conversation takes a turn for the worse. With two more years of control and coming off a season in which Olson posted a career-high 5.8 WAR, the Athletics will be asking for a king’s ransom for his services. If the Braves don’t oblige, another team will, and I’m not sure how much leverage Alex Anthopoulos will have in negotiations, especially if Freeman chooses to sign quickly with another organization.

I’ve outlined what a potential Olson trade might look like earlier this offseason. You can check it out in full detail, but it will cost the Braves multiple top prospects. A few years ago, Atlanta’s farm system could have afforded that kind of blow. Now, it would leave them with one of the worst prospect pipelines in baseball.

That’s far from the only issue, though. We also have to look at the big picture regarding Olson’s production. Last year, he was elite. In 2019, he was very good as well, but other than those two seasons, it’s a lot of slightly above-average baseball. Who knows if 2021 was a sign of things to come or more of a flash in the pan. There will also be a lot of pressure on a hometown kid that is attempting to fill the shoes of Freddie Freeman.

Finally, I question the future after Olson’s contract expires. He’ll likely be a bargain over the next two seasons, but then he’s set to hit unrestricted free agency. There’s a chance the Braves trade for him and find themselves in the exact same situation in two years as they are now. Unless Olson is willing to iron out an extension right after the Braves trade for him, buying out the rest of his arbitration years and adding a few more after that, it doesn’t seem like good business to give up several top prospects for him when re-signing Freeman won’t cost prospects at all.

Tomorrow, I’ll break down what other first base prospects make sense for the Braves that are not named Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson.

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