This isn’t a conversation any Braves fan wants to have, but it’s also one that is impossible to avoid. This past offseason, Alex Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on a trade for Matt Olson, sending top prospects Cristian Pache, Shea Langeliers, and Ryan Cusick to Oakland. More importantly, it meant they were out of the Freddie Freeman sweepstakes, who ended up signing with the Dodgers. It was inarguably one of the most pivotal decisions in franchise history, and it’s looking like the Braves might have gotten the short end of the stick.
At the time, the decision was understandable. The Braves viewed Olson as a comparable first baseman, and they couldn’t risk Freeman signing elsewhere first, or they would be left with no leverage in trade negotiations. Olson is also a few years younger and was willing to immediately sign a long-term extension with the team at a lesser rate than Freeman. Everything pointed to the Braves avoiding catastrophe, but there has been one problem since. Olson hasn’t produced anywhere near the level of Freddie Freeman.
On the season, the former Athletics first baseman is hitting just .242 with an .803 OPS. His defense also hasn’t come as advertised. As a result, Olson has accrued just 2.6 WAR, while Freeman continues to be arguably the best first baseman in all of baseball for the Dodgers, accruing 6.5 WAR out in Los Angeles.
To put just how incomparable these two have been in a Braves uniform, Freeman hasn’t posted a season with less than 3 WAR since 2012. Even in the shortened 2020 campaign, which had just 60 games, he accrued 3.3 WAR. In an average season, Freeman is two times more productive than Olson has been in 2022. And remember, the Braves also had to give up several top prospects to acquire Olson, which they wouldn’t have had to do if they ponied up the extra cash to retain Freeman.
Now, this decision to move on from Freeman was never going to be about just one season. Both of these guys are locked in for the next 5+ years. Matt Olson is amid his worst full season since 2017, and I expect him to perform much better over the length of his contract. Freeman could also begin to decline at the end of his deal because of his age. But as of now, there’s a clear loser in all of this, and it’s the Braves. That will only become more clear if Atlanta finds themselves head-to-head against the Dodgers in the playoffs and can’t get over the hump.
Nobody said being a general manager was easy. Alex Anthopoulos has done so much good for this organization, setting the Braves up for sustained success over the next decade. But it’s impossible not to think about what could have been had Freddie Freeman stayed in Atlanta.
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