The Braves Extend Their New First Baseman

© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves have decisively answered the questions about their newly acquired first baseman’s future with the team. On Tuesday, they signed Matt Olson to an eight-year, $168 million extension that will keep him with the club through the end of the 2029 season.

Olson still had two years of arbitration remaining, so the deal isn’t quite at the level he likely would have gotten as a free agent.

The speed with which the Braves signed Olson to an extension suggests that they wanted to avoid the sort of uncertainty they experienced with Freddie Freeman as his own long-term deal approached its expiration last fall.

Now that we know what it took to extend Olson, was it the right decision? Obviously, much of the answer comes down to what you think of him and Freeman. Olson and Freeman have similar near-term projections, but Olson is four and a half years younger. Olson’s age when the deal concludes in 2029 will be the same as Freeman’s four years from now. Would you rather have Olson at 35 or Freeman at 39? I think that’s an easy answer, and ZiPS agrees:

ZiPS Projection – Matt Olson
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .273 .375 .558 527 93 144 30 0 40 124 80 3 140 5 4.6
2023 .274 .375 .562 514 90 141 31 0 39 120 77 3 141 5 4.5
2024 .270 .370 .547 497 86 134 30 0 36 113 74 4 136 5 4.0
2025 .265 .365 .530 479 80 127 28 0 33 105 70 4 131 4 3.5
2026 .260 .359 .505 461 72 120 26 0 29 94 65 4 123 4 2.9
2027 .255 .349 .475 436 65 111 24 0 24 83 58 4 113 4 2.1
2028 .247 .337 .443 413 57 102 21 0 20 72 51 3 102 4 1.4
2029 .240 .322 .414 350 44 84 16 0 15 55 39 3 91 3 0.6

ZiPS Projection – Freddie Freeman
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .294 .386 .512 562 101 165 32 2 29 92 80 7 133 3 4.0
2023 .288 .379 .500 538 93 155 32 2 26 85 75 6 128 2 3.4
2024 .285 .374 .477 512 85 146 28 2 22 76 68 5 121 2 2.8
2025 .282 .365 .460 483 76 136 25 2 19 68 60 5 115 2 2.1
2026 .275 .353 .437 455 67 125 22 2 16 60 51 4 106 1 1.3
2027 .267 .339 .411 397 54 106 17 2 12 48 39 3 95 0 0.4
2028 .260 .324 .383 311 40 81 12 1 8 34 27 2 84 -1 -0.2
2029 .254 .314 .358 201 24 51 7 1 4 20 16 1 76 -1 -0.5

ZiPS originally suggested seven years and $141 million for Olson; the eighth year pushes that to about $150 million. (As an aside, I expect that if Freeman had been willing to sign something around six years and $140 million, it would have gotten done a year ago). From a projections standpoint, $168 million is perfectly reasonable; as I said when I wrote up the trade, first basemen/designated hitter types are at an unusual premium right now, and what’s $18 million between good friends?

Of course, Olson and Freeman aren’t the only considerations here. Given that there’s an expectation that Olson will likely be better than Freeman would have been in the out years of a deal, the question is whether the better deal given to Olson is worth the prospects given up (you can find Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein’s deep dive on the players going back to Oakland here). I think it is. Cristian Pache is still a good prospect, but he’s risky and the team still has Drew Waters or, should his knee bounce back all the way, the option of playing Ronald Acuña Jr. in center. Shea Langeliers was the prospect most likely to help the team quickly, but the Braves still have Travis d’Arnaud signed for two more seasons with an option for a third. Ryan Cusick may come back and bite them later, but the key word there is later. Atlanta’s coming off a World Series championship and is in the same division as the Mets, who seem likely to be very aggressive in the coming years. The foundation of the offense — Acuña, Olson, and Ozzie Albies — is now basically in Atlanta for the rest of the decade. I think the benefit is worth the cost.

As it was for Anthopoulos, who showed visible emotion when discussing the Olson trade, and no doubt was for Freeman’s teammates, I expect this changing of the guard will also be bittersweet for Braves fans. Regardless of whether it was the right decision for the team, moving on from Freeman, the franchise player who the Braves chose to keep throughout their whole rebuilding cycle, was never going to be easy. But there’s comfort to be had. Most of the seasons Freeman is likely to be best remembered for have probably already taken place, and they took place in a Braves uniform. Fans already experienced the catharsis of watching Freeman get his championship ring, again with Atlanta. Keeping a player past their prime can be a double-edged sword. As a kid rooting for the Baltimore Orioles, I had a similar experience with Eddie Murray, Baltimore’s franchise first baseman who they let go at a similar age. It was painful to see him leave, but it didn’t take away any of my memories of Eddie in orange-and-black, the colors he wore for almost all of his best times. And when he went into Cooperstown, it was with an Oriole on his cap, not an interlocked LA. To re-use one of my favorite quotes, by Orson Welles: “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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bosoxforlifemember
8 months ago

I made this comment on the other article about the trade. You have your answer now and Alex Anthopoulos has already locked up Executive of the Year award. 8 years for the same amount of money that Freeman was demanding for 6 and for a player who is 4 1/2 years younger. This is a coup equal to landing the MVP’s of both the NLCS and the WS at last year’s deadline for nothing more than a bag of shags and a couple of broken bats. At the same time Oakland has a chance to benefit as well even though Pache has lost almost all of his lustre and the other prospects are just that.