Tuesday's MLB: Braves sign new 1B Olson to $168 million, 8-year contract

Paul Newberry
Associated Press

Atlanta — One day after cutting ties with Freddie Freeman, the Atlanta Braves signed new first baseman Matt Olson to a $168 million, eight-year contract on Tuesday.

Olson was not eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season, but the World Series champions quickly locked down the 27-year-old slugger through at least 2029. The deal also includes a $20 million club option for 2030 with no buyout.

Atlanta Braves baseball team newly acquired All-Star first baseman Matt Olson shakes hands with Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos during an introductory press conference in North Port, Fla., Tuesday, March 15, 2022. The Braves signed Olson to a $168 million, eight-year contract.

With a stunning bit of wheeling and dealing, the Braves addressed their potential hole at first base after failing to reach a deal with Freeman, who led the team for more than a decade and played a huge role in Atlanta capturing its first World Series championship since 1995.

The Braves dealt four top prospects to the Oakland Athletics for Olson, a 2021 All-Star coming off a season in which he had 39 homers and 111 RBIs while batting .271.

Olson will make $15 million this year, $21 million in 2023 and $22 million in each of the following six seasons.

It was the 10th contract of at least $100 million agreed to since the end of the World Series and the first since Major League Baseball's 99-day lockout ended last week,

The payout is the largest in Braves' history, surpassing the $135 million, eight-year deal that Freeman signed after the 2013 season.

Atlanta was not willing to make that sort of long-term commitment again to Freeman, who is 32. But, with a younger player who was willing to take less money per year that his predecessor is reportedly seeking, the Braves agreed to the sort of lengthy deal they weren't prepared to give Freeman.

Olson, who turns 28 on March 29, flew from Arizona to the Braves spring training camp in Venice, Florida, where the team announced his new contract at an introductory news conference.

Olson knows he has some huge shoes to fill in Atlanta, where Freeman was a clubhouse leader and one of the team's most popular players.

A career .295 hitter, Freeman surpassed 20 homers eight times with a career-high 38 in 2019. He has a pair of 100-RBI seasons on his resume, and three other years where he drove in more than 90 runs. He won the NL MVP award in 2020, finished in the top 10 of the balloting five other times, in addition to claiming three Silver Slugger awards and a Gold Glove for his defensive work.

Freeman has yet to sign with a new team, with speculation focusing on two big-money clubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.

“Freddie is obviously an amazing player,” Olson told reporters. “It's just not going to affect what I come here and do. I'm here to be Matt Olson. That's all I can really control.”

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos moved boldly to bolster the lineup when it became apparent Sunday night that Freeman was likely to sign elsewhere.

Atlanta dealt four of its top 20 prospects, including outfielder Cristian Pache and projected catcher of the future Shea Langeliers. The Braves also surrendered pitchers Ryan Cusick, a 2021 first-round pick, and Joey Estes.

But it was all worth it to Anthopoulos when a new contract for Olson came together after a marathon negotiating session with his agent. B.B. Abbott.

Olson is a two-time Gold Glove winner with a .252 career average, 142 homers and an .859 OPS over six seasons. Last season, he finished eighth in AL MVP voting, establishing himself as one of the game's top first basemen.

“A really exciting day for us,” Anthopoulos said. “We worked on it all day, all night. I haven't gotten a whole lot of sleep.”

The GM said he was thrilled that Olson, a native of suburban Atlanta, will be a long-term part of a group of young stars that also includes Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley and Max Fried.

“For you wanting to commit, to be with us and be here, and be part of this core, is exceptionally exciting,” Anthopoulos said to Olson at the news conference. “Hopefully were going to continue to be a very competitive club.”

Others who agreed to nine-figure deals include Texas shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million), Tampa Bay infielder Wander Franco ($182 million), Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million), Detroit infielder Javier Báez ($140 million), Toronto right-hander José Berríos ($131 million), Mets right-hander Max Scherzer ($130 million), Seattle left-hander Robbie Ray ($115 million), Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman ($110 million) and Minnesota centerfielder Byron Buxton ($100 million).

Yankees' Judge sidesteps vaccine question amid NYC mandate

Tampa, Fla. — Yankees star Aaron Judge refused to directly answer a question about his vaccine status Tuesday amid a requirement in New York City that every private sector employee be inoculated against the coronavirus.

“I’m still focused on just getting to the first game of spring training,” Judge said from the team's Florida training complex. “So I think we’ll cross that bridge after the time comes. But right now, so many things could change. So I’m not really too worried about that right now.”

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees waits to bat in the first inning.

Just like Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, unvaccinated players on the Yankees and Mets will not be allowed to suit up at home due to the city's private employer mandate that went into effect Dec. 27.

The employer mandate is the same across the board, whether it’s a sports team playing indoors or outdoors. A city hall official who was not authorized to speak on the record noted that the start of the season is a month away, too far out to make a determination about what will happen then as the city continues to monitor COVID-19 cases.

The Yankees said in a statement that team president Randy Levine was “working with city hall and all other appropriate officials on this matter.”

“We will have no further comment,” the team added.

The Yankees open their season at home against the rival Boston Red Sox on April 7.

Judge is a three-time All-Star and a leader in New York's clubhouse. He hit .287 with 39 homers last season and finished fourth in AL MVP balloting. He's eligible to become a free agent after this season, although he's expressed a strong interest in signing a long-term deal with New York.

Even if New York's mandate is lifted, unvaccinated Yankees players would have to sit out nine games scheduled in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Canada’s government requires a person must have received a second vaccine dose — or one dose of Johnson & Johnson — at least 14 days prior to entry.

Major League Baseball and the players' association agreed as part of their new labor contract last week that unvaccinated players will not be paid for games in Toronto that they miss because of the mandate.

New York's first visit to Toronto is a three-game series that begins May 2.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Sunday that he is concerned about the roster impact of the COVID-19 rules in Toronto.

“It will be interesting, to say the least, how that situations unfolds,” Boone said. “I think we still have a few guys at least that aren’t vaccinated, so we’ll be monitoring that situation closely and see how that plays out. But yeah, it’s an concern.”