Perhaps if the Yankees had a money-laundering apparatus as effective as the "Braves Foundation," we wouldn't be in this precarious position.
Alas. Atlanta was able to go the extra mile when the MLB lockout was lifted and trade for former Oakland A's slugger Matt Olson to fill their newly-formed first base vacancy. Tale as old as time. Olson was a long-rumored Yankees fit. Then it didn't happen. Maybe the Yankees and A's just couldn't find a trade match? Nope, they did a few months later for Frankie Montas. That went great.
A year and a half later, we're still at a loss here. Olson (and Freddie Freeman) were both available, and might be the only two first base options in the league who could make Anthony Rizzo feel like a consolation prize. That's exactly what happened, though, as the Yankees let Olson's gorgeous lefty swing escape their clutches, then paid for Rizzo's mid-30s.
Rizzo posted a 130 OPS+ last season with solid defense that the metrics didn't love. Then, through no fault of his own, his brain was sideswiped by Fernando Tatis Jr., and his baseball future is terrifyingly in doubt. Olson? He shrugged off a slight down year last season (121 OPS+) to post a near-1.000 OPS in 2023, his age-29 season. On Thursday, he tagged his 54th home run of the year, setting the Braves' single-season franchise RBI record, soaring higher than Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews ever did. Could've been ours. Could've been our record. Neat.
Former Yankees target Matt Olson is leveling up with Braves
What could've been ... ah, who are we kidding? Tatis Jr. probably would've gotten Olson, too, if the Yankees had traded for and extended the sweet-swinger.
That's the difference, though, isn't it? Rizzo is essentially a year-to-year commitment; the Yankees responded to his declined player option with another short deal last offseason that takes him through 2024 (before another likely declined team option). Doesn't work out? No foul! You just wasted a year or two of Aaron Judge's prime. Olson? He would've only been under control through 2023 if he hadn't signed a sweetheart deal that takes him through 2029 in Atlanta. $168 million over eight years. Even after you remove the hometown discount (he's a Georgia native, it's a great story), that's still cheaper than Carlos Rodón. The Yankees could've afforded it.
Olson's Braves will be in the postseason, as Atlanta emerges as the new gold standard of player development and optimized trade-targeting. The Yankees? Hal and Co. are stuck on the one-yard line, and the player that everyone thought was a fait accompli entering the lockout is setting records elsewhere.