Budget-conscious A first baseman trades Matt Olson to Braves for four prospects

MESA, Ariz. — In a blockbuster move, the A’s traded first baseman Matt Olson to the Atlanta Braves for a slew of prospects on Monday.

Olson, a native of Atlanta, joins his hometown team after a career 2021 season. The left-handed power hitter and two-time Gold Glove winner hit a career-high 39 home runs and finished eighth in AL MVP voting.

“It’s a bittersweet start,” Olson said. “Obviously I know Atlanta is an amazing place, World Series champions, my hometown. So if there was one place to go and get out of here, this is the place to do it. I “I’m excited about this. Lots of good friends here that I’ll be saying goodbye to. It’s, like I said, bittersweet. But I’m excited about what’s to come.”

The A’s received outfielder Cristian Pache, receiver Shea Langeliers and right-handed pitchers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes. Pache was ranked the No. 3 and Langeliers the No. 2 prospect in Atlanta’s minor league system by Baseball America. Cusick was ranked No. 9 and Estes at No. 14.

General manager David Forst said the A’s and Braves discussed a possible deal for Olson in November, as Atlanta debated whether he would re-sign free agent Freddie Freeman. Forst said teams then talked about which players Oakland could get, “so it was easy to pick up” after the lockdown.

“We are really happy with the return of the players,” said Forst. “That has to be our focus right now. … I can say these four guys are players we’ve talked about in the past, whether it’s in the draft or in other trade conversations, and we’re thrilled with all four of them.

When asked if more exchanges might follow, Forst said, “Everything is fluid and we have conversations that are still ongoing.”

Olson’s exit came two days after Chris Bassitt, another 2021 All-Star, was dealt to the Mets to pitch prospects JT Ginn and Adam Oller. Third baseman Matt Chapman and starters Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas are among other trade candidates as Oakland plunges into an apparent roster overhaul.

“Look, this is the reality of our situation,” Forst said. “And that’s why it’s imperative that we get a new ballpark. Matt Olson is a great player and he will be missed by our fans, everyone in this clubhouse and those of us who had to break the news today.

The A’s, who have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, have a history of trading key players before or during their salary arbitration years. Olson was part of a core group of A teams that posted winning records each of the past four seasons and reached the playoffs in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

“It’s tough,” Olson said. “I think a lot of us, the first choice was to stay here and be an A for as long as possible and try to kind of reverse the cycles that kind of have been here in the past. Obviously, this is not the case. So it’s hard.

“I know there’s a business side to it and sometimes the money doesn’t work. But I appreciate everything David (Forst) and Billy (Beane) and all the coaching staff here, even (former manager Bob Melvin), have done for me along the way.

“It hurts that a lot of guys want to end up staying here and that couldn’t end up happening financially. But that’s this one’s business. We know what we’re signing there. So I’m delighted to to this next chapter and to go to Atlanta and a team that is so determined to win and won it last year.

The A’s were holding their first full-team spring training at Hohokam Stadium when the Olson deal became official on Monday. Olson had been left out of training as details were finalized. He spoke to reporters about the canoe trade with the training still ongoing.

Between the end of the lockout and the trade rumours, Olson said: “It’s been a crazy week. … There were a lot of question marks to be answered. It will be nice to have some peace of mind and go down to Florida and meet the guys from Atlanta and settle down.

A first-round pick by the A’s from Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, in 2012, Olson grew up as a Braves fan and is now Freeman’s apparent successor for the defending World Series champions.

Olson, 27, made his debut for Oakland in 2016 and showed his power potential in 2017 by hitting 24 home runs in 189 major league at-bats. He became a regular on the roster in 2018, playing 162 games, totaling 29 homers and winning his first Gold Glove award. He hit 36 ​​homers and won a second Gold Glove in 2019.

The short 2020 season proved difficult as Olson hit .195 and vowed to perform better next season. He did, setting career bests in average (.271), OPS (.911) and homers. He halved his strikeout rate to 16.8% and smashed left-handed throwing, posting a .962 OPS and 22 homers against lefties.

“It would be difficult to overstate its impact on the organization,” Forst said.

For the A’s, Pache could be an immediate contributor. The center back made it to the majors at age 21 in 2020 and played 22 games for Atlanta last year, spending most of the season at Triple-A, during which he hit .265 with 11 homers in 89 games . With Ramón Laureano still to serve 27 games on an 80-game PED suspension, the A’s are to open the season with a different centre-back.

“We obviously have a lot of things moving between now and opening day,” Forst said. “What we do know is that (Pache) is probably one of the best defensive outfielders we’ve seen in the minor leagues in a long time. And guys coming to the big leagues at 21, that’s a really good sign for what’s to come, so we’re excited about his future.

Langeliers, 24, was Atlanta’s ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft. He played in 92 Double-A games last year, batting .258 with 22 home runs, and made a move to Triple-A. Cusick was the Braves’ 2021 first-round draft pick from Wake Forest and in six starts at Low-A Augusta he posted a 2.76 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 16 ⅓ innings. Estes, a 2019 16th-round pick, had a 2.91 ERA in 20 starts for Augusta last season.

Asked who might succeed Olson at first base in Oakland, Forst replied, “I don’t think we have those answers yet.”

The A’s are scheduled for two interleague series against the Braves this season: June 7-8 in Atlanta and September 6-7 in Oakland. Olson heads to eastern Newfoundland, where the Mets have also added old A’s in Bassitt, Starling Marte and Mark Canha. Olson said facing Bassitt “is going to be something.”

“Some of the words have been said in previous years of ‘When I Face You…'” Olson said. “So I guess we’ll see what actually happens. But it will be cool. A new division for me and new areas, so I’m excited to branch out a bit and see what comes next.

Matt Kawahara covers the A’s for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @matthewkawahara

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