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A’s sign Matt Olson, avoid arbitration

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The star 1B gets a nice raise

Division Series - Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros - Game Three Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s agreed to a one-year contract with first baseman Matt Olson on Wednesday, the team announced. Olson, who was eligible for salary arbitration this winter and now avoids that process, will receive $5 million in 2021, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

The A’s also announced that they tendered contracts to all of their remaining arbitration-eligible players, so nobody from Oakland will be non-tendered this winter.

We’ll begin with a look at Olson, followed by details about how the arbitration system works and what this news means.

Matt Olson

The starting first baseman needs no introduction. At the plate he hits moonshot homers and gets on base at a solid rate despite a low batting average. In the field, he’s the best defensive first baseman in the majors, although he was robbed of what would have been his third straight Gold Glove this year because the awards were based purely on small-sample metrics (which was a terrible idea). He did win his third straight Fielding Bible at first base, which are voted on by humans.

In 2020, Olson ran hot and cold at the plate. He had a couple outbursts but also went through some deep slumps, and without the full 162 games to balance it all out, he finished the summer with an unsightly .195 batting average. The career .245 hitter will usually do better than that over the long haul.

Olson, 2020: .195/.310/.424, 103 wRC+, 14 HR, 13.9% BB, 31.4% Ks, .326 xwOBA

The postseason was a similar all-or-nothing story for the lefty. In the Wild Card Round against the White Sox he went 0-for-9 with six strikeouts (and three walks), but then in the ALDS against the Astros he blasted a pair of homers and fanned only four times in 16 plate appearances.

While the latest numbers may be lackluster, they’re nothing to worry about moving forward into his age 27 season. We already know who Olson is — a powerful slugger who hits the ball with authority but can also go through spurts of contact issues — so nothing unusual happened, just slightly more of the bad than normal.

He’s still one of the best players on a really good team. It was a no-brainer to tender him a contract, especially with his salary still reasonably low in his first turn through arbitration.

What is Arbitration?

This section reproduced and updated from a previous post.

The A’s have 10 players eligible for salary arbitration this winter. That means those players are still under team control and they aren’t free agents, but their salaries aren’t yet determined, leaving the two sides to either negotiate a number or let the court decide for them. Four of the 10 A’s have now signed and can be checked off the list.

The deadline for teams to tender contracts to eligible players is today, Dec. 2. The parties don’t have to agree to exact numbers by then, but the club must at least commit to keeping the player and paying whatever it ends up costing*. Players who don’t receive such an assurance by Dec. 2 are called “non-tendered” and they become free agents.

* Note: The payout isn’t fully guaranteed until midway through next spring, so the team does still have one more chance to cut bait even if they tender a contract now.

Here are Oakland’s eligible players, along with their salary projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. The projections are complicated this year, depending what method the market ends up using to evaluate the unusually short season, so there are three figures for each player instead of one (actual figures in italics for players who have signed):

  • OF Mark Canha – $5.4m / $8.2m / $6.1m
  • LHP Sean Manaea – $4.2m / $6.4m / $4.7m
  • 1B Matt Olson ($5.0m) – $3.5m / $6.4m / $3.5m
  • RHP Chris Bassitt – $3.1m / $5.6m / $5.5m*
  • 3B Matt Chapman – $2.9m / $4.3m / $2.9m
  • UT Chad Pinder ($2.275m) – $2.2m / $2.4m / $2.2m
  • RHP Frankie Montas – $1.6m / $2.4m / $1.6m
  • UT Tony Kemp ($1.05m) – $900k / $1.2m / $900k
  • RHP Lou Trivino – $900k / $1.1m / $900k
  • RHP Burch Smith ($705k) – $600k / $800k / $600k

So far, all four players who have signed did so right around the middle of their expected ranges. There are now six more eligible players to address, though all of them have at least been tendered so it’s just a matter of how much they’ll earn.