The A’s are generally expected to make a few marquee players available after the lockout in an effort to trim payroll. If Oakland does embark on something of an organizational reboot, Matt Olson seems one of the likelier players to wind up elsewhere. Projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $12M salary in his penultimate arbitration season, Olson might be the costliest player on the A’s books.
Trading Olson is the most straightforward way to reduce payroll, but he’d still be in plenty of demand around the league. A $12M salary is well below market value for a two-time Gold Glove-winning first baseman coming off a .271/.371/.540 showing that earned him an eighth-place finish in AL MVP balloting. With another season of below-market club control remaining thereafter (barring changes to the service structure in the next collective bargaining agreement), landing Olson would probably require sending multiple highly regarded young players back to Oakland.
Which teams are in the best position to pull off the blockbuster if the A’s make Olson available? Before looking at the best fits, we can remove a few teams from consideration. The Pirates, Orioles and Diamondbacks aren’t in the competitive window to trade for a player with two years of control. The same is probably true of the Nationals and Cubs, barring unexpected post-lockout pushes for immediate contention. The Rays’ projected 2022 payroll is already $18M higher than last year’s season-opening mark. They’re probably not taking on a $12M salary this winter. The Reds have spent all offseason signaling a desire to cut spending.
Which teams seem to be the most plausible landing spots?
Best Fits for a Deal
- Braves — Are the Braves finally going to end their stalemate with Freddie Freeman after the lockout? If he signs somewhere else, they’ll need a first baseman. Olson is reportedly on their radar as a possible replacement.
- Brewers — The Brewers have a championship-caliber pitching staff, but the offense has been middle-of-the-pack. Rowdy Tellez was alright after coming over from the Blue Jays in a midseason trade, but his career track record is mixed. Olson would be a definitive upgrade, and Tellez could stick around as a possible designated hitter option if the universal DH is included in the next CBA. The question is whether Milwaukee — currently projected for a payroll around $20M north of last season’s Opening Day mark — would take on a salary in this range, but he’s a perfect fit for the roster.
- Giants — The Giants are only a strong fit in the event of a universal DH. Otherwise, first base belongs to Brandon Belt. If there’s an NL DH, acquiring Olson from their crosstown rivals and giving Belt more time at DH would be a boon to an already excellent offense, and it might help the 33-year-old Belt stay healthy all season.
- Mariners — The Mariners are known to be looking for another bat. Acquiring Olson and pushing Ty France to DH would fill that void, and Seattle has the payroll space to accommodate such a move. The potential holdup? Seattle’s loath to part with its top prospects, and that might be especially true in an intra-divisional trade.
- Rangers — The Rangers have looked into the possibility of an Olson deal. They’ve been ultra-aggressive this winter but still look to be shy of 2022 contention. Landing Olson and pushing Nathaniel Lowe to DH would complete perhaps the sport’s top infield, although there’d still be major question marks about the pitching staff. As with Seattle, there are possible intra-divisional trade complications to consider.
- Twins — The Twins have been quieter than expected this winter. They should have payroll flexibility, though, and Miguel Sanó isn’t coming off a great season. Upgrading the rotation seems like the priority in Minnesota, but the free agent starting pitching market has been largely picked clean. Might the Twins pivot and add to an already-strong offense to try to compensate for the lackluster starting staff?
- Yankees — The Yankees have been speculated upon as a potential landing spot for much of the winter, with good reason. Luke Voit dealt with a series of injuries last season, and the Yankees seemed sufficiently discouraged with his health outlook to land Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline. Rizzo’s now a free agent, and while New York could opt to roll with Voit again, there’s little question Olson would at least be a marked defensive upgrade.
Plausible but Longer Odds
- Dodgers — One can seemingly never rule the Dodgers out on stars, but this probably requires an NL designated hitter to pull off, given the presences of Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and Gavin Lux between first and second base.
- Guardians — A $12M salary might wind up being too hefty for the Guardians, yet they only have $11M in guaranteed money on the books this year, with an estimated $49M in commitments after accounting for arbitration projections. This is a franchise that has exceeded nine figures in the past, and incumbent first baseman Bobby Bradley struck out in 35.5% of his plate appearances last year.
- Marlins — The Marlins could supplant Jesús Aguilar at first, and Olson would be a massive upgrade to a lineup that struggled in 2021. Miami has plenty of young pitching that might appeal to Oakland. The Fish seem more focused on outfield help, but an Olson trade makes some sense if they pivot back to the dirt.
- Padres — The Padres tend to act boldly, and they could stand to upgrade over Eric Hosmer. With a projected payroll approaching $200M, it’s not clear how much further ownership’s willing to spend. Landing Olson might require first shedding the bulk of Hosmer’s contract in a separate trade, but that’d require parting with some prospect talent even before considering the package of young players San Diego would need to send to Oakland.
- Phillies — An NL DH could theoretically bring Olson into play, with Rhys Hoskins assuming the bat-only role. Shortstop, third base, two outfield spots and the bullpen are all arguably bigger concerns for Philadelphia though.
- Red Sox — The Red Sox could supplant Bobby Dalbec at first base this year. With J.D. Martinez slated to hit free agency next winter, top prospect Triston Casas could break in as a DH in 2023. Yet with clearer needs in the bullpen and either at second base or in the outfield, Olson to Boston feels like a long shot.
Teams With More Pressing Needs
- Angels — Jared Walsh broke out with an All-Star campaign in 2021 and should have first base accounted for. Designated hitter? That’s occupied by the reigning AL MVP.
- Astros — Yuli Gurriel is back at first base after winning the batting title. Yordan Álvarez is locked in at DH.
- Blue Jays — The Blue Jays have the reigning MVP runner-up, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., at first base. It’s unlikely they’d want Guerrero to become a full-time DH this early in his career. One could argue for Toronto acquiring Olson and kicking Guerrero back to third base, but it’s probably best to leave the young star at first and try to upgrade the other infield spots more directly.
- Cardinals — The Cardinals have Paul Goldschmidt at first base and some young options (Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez) for the possible DH spot.
- Mets — The Mets have Pete Alonso at first and a number of offense-minded players already on the roster who could step into a DH role if needed.
- Rockies — The Rockies just extended C.J. Cron. If the new CBA contains a universal DH, could they acquire Olson and take Cron off defense? That seems far-fetched, even for a Colorado team that views itself closer to contention than most outside observers would.
- Royals — The Royals seem to be prioritizing bullpen help. They’d probably like to move Carlos Santana, but top prospect Nick Pratto could step in at first base in the unlikely event they find a Santana suitor.
- Tigers — Miguel Cabrera is still around for two more years at DH, and top prospect Spencer Torkelson is on the doorstep of taking over first base.
- White Sox — The White Sox are already at a franchise-record projected payroll and have José Abreu and Andrew Vaughn to cover first base/DH.
Payroll projections courtesy of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource