After four months of holding our breaths, the hammer has finally dropped.
The Oakland A’s traded first baseman Matt Olson to the Atlanta Braves on Monday, first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN and later confirmed by the team. This is Oakland’s second star trade since the MLB lockout ended four days ago, and Olson represented their biggest among many major trade chips this winter.
In exchange, the A’s received an absolute haul, getting four prospects from the Braves: OF Cristian Pache, C Shea Langeliers, RHP Ryan Cusick, and RHP Joey Estes. That’s not a list of spare parts or sleepers or injury bounce-backs, it’s basically Atlanta’s farm, including arguably their top two prospects and four from their Top 15. Two of those names are consensus national Top 100 talents.
Pache was the Braves top prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and their third-best per Baseball America, and those two sources ranked him No. 38 and No. 84 nationally. He’s an elite defensive outfielder who could slide into CF in Oakland immediately at age 23, having already debuted in MLB and played in two different postseasons. His bat is no better than decent and might be below-average, but his 80-grade fielding tool might give him the best glove in the entire sport, and that along with his 70+ arm and speed offer a path to making an impact no matter what happens at the plate.
- Pache, 2021 AAA: .265/.330/.414, 100 wRC+, 11 HR, 8.5% BB, 27.5% Ks
- Pache, 2021 MLB: 7-for-63 (.111), 1 HR, 2 BB, 25 Ks
- Pache, 2020 NLCS: 4-for-22, HR, double, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 4 Ks
Langeliers was the Braves No. 2 prospect per both Pipeline and BA, meaning BA ranked him above Pache, and the two sources placed him No. 69 and No. 54 nationally. He’s another great defensive player, but at the catcher position, with an elite arm and praise for his ability to work with pitchers. He’s glove-first but his bat has some promise and he’s begun hitting for power. He reached Triple-A last year and could have a chance to debut in the majors this summer at age 24.
- Langeliers, 2021 AA: .258/.338/.498, 128 wRC+, 22 HR, 9.7% BB, 26.2% Ks
- Langeliers, 2021 AAA: 2-for-11, 2 doubles, 3 BB, 6 Ks
Cusick was Atlanta’s 1st-round draft pick last year, and accordingly he rated highly in their system, No. at 6 Pipeline and No. 9 at BA. The 6’6” right-hander has barely played in the pros yet, making six starts last summer after being drafted, but he thoroughly dominated the competition and struck out half the batters he faced. His fastball has great velocity and spin rate, reaching as high as 102 mph, but he’s still working on his control, command, and promising breaking ball, which is fair enough at age 22 and entering his first full pro season.
- Cusick, 2021 A-: 2.76 ERA, 16⅓ ip, 34 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 1.53 FIP
Estes was the Braves No. 14 prospect per both Pipeline and BA. The right-hander was drafted out of high school in 2019 in the 16th round, and reached full-season ball in Low-A last summer, where he posted eye-popping strikeout rates. He throws strikes with low/mid-90s velocity and also has a decent slider, and he’s working on a changeup to go with it, which could help determine whether he sticks as a starter or moves to the bullpen. He’s still only 20 years old, making him the youngest of the A’s four new arrivals.
- Estes, 2021 A-: 2.91 ERA, 99 ip, 127 Ks, 29 BB, 7 HR, 3.30 FIP
In exchange for all that, the Braves get Olson for the next two seasons. The All-Star slugger and multi-time Gold Glove winner was born in Atlanta and grew up in the surrounding area, so this is a homecoming for him. He’ll have big shoes to fill though, as he replaces longtime superstar first baseman Freddie Freeman, who won the MVP in 2020 and then helped lead the team to a World Series championship last summer — Freeman became a free agent this winter, and this trade presumably closes the door to his return.
For the A’s, the rebuild continues. They traded All-star pitcher Chris Bassitt to the Mets on Saturday, netting two prospects in return, and now Olson is the next out the door. Those two departures cut around $21 million off their projected payroll, which was certainly one of the team’s goals this offseason, but more importantly it began the process of restocking impact talent to form the next winning core.
Looking forward, there are still three stars who could be dealt in the coming days, between third baseman Matt Chapman and pitchers Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas. It remains to be seen how many will go and whether any might be kept.
If you’re going to trade one of the faces of the franchise, then you’d better get an enormous return, and at least the A’s did that. That doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to a beloved favorite like Olson, but at least they got the deal right. You don’t need to squint to see the value in this prospect package, it reaches out and slaps you in the face. Click here for full scouting reports.
This quartet has everything you could hope for. There’s premium talent with multiple Top 100 names, and those two headliners are pretty much MLB-ready. There’s new pitching, and both bring fresh arms and clean health records. Together the group offers a combination of impact potential and also a relatively short timetable, such that we don’t need to wait several years to see payoff.
In fact, Pache and Langeliers are probably more likely to reach Oakland this summer than not, and Pache will do so in an area where the A’s desperately need help — their outfield is thin enough already without missing the suspended Ramon Laureano for the first month. They won’t match Olson’s production yet, but even this star-for-prospects swap isn’t solely a subtraction from the 2022 roster.
Only time will tell if these new youngsters pan out, but this is the cycle the A’s have followed for the past couple decades and it usually results in a contender that makes multiple playoff trips. All we can say for now is they got the size and type of return that they needed to demand.
That said, no matter how prepared we were for Olson’s inevitable exit, it’s still jarring when it happens. We could probably come up with a compelling case for keeping him, both in terms of financially fitting him into the payroll and also making another run toward October, and maybe it would have turned out to be worth the risk. But it’s not all about this year’s payroll, it’s also about building the next long-term core for 2024 and beyond, and the only ways to get the necessary top prospects are to draft them yourself or trade for them.
Of course, Olson himself was drafted by the A’s a decade ago, which makes it that much tougher to see him go. We’ve watched him develop from a high school pick into an MVP candidate, and that makes a player feel even more like family. But no team nails the draft every year, and for clubs without money that eventually means adding talent through trades.
There is no joy in Oakland, for mighty Olson has been shipped out. Athletics Nation will miss him dearly, like so many other stars before him. But hopefully soon we’ll be falling in love with our new players, while they lead the next good A’s team to glory and make all this perpetual heartbreak worth it.