Should Yankees have chosen Matt Olson trade over Anthony Rizzo last offseason?
By Adam Weinrib
Forget about the Freddie Freeman pipe dream. It sure would've been nice for the Yankees to have stolen the 2020 NL MVP from the 2021 World Series Champions, but it didn't seem conceivable they would spend that much money on a first baseman, and it still doesn't now.
But trading for Matt Olson? That still seems realistic. Freeman heading back to Atlanta and Olson heading to the Bronx. Yeah. You can see it, especially since the Yankees dumped many of their top assets to Oakland a few months later for a far worse player.
Back in the mid-lockout baseball haze, Yankees Twitter followed a strange pied piper who insisted the Bombers were close to a deal for Olson, which would matriculate across the finish line as soon as Rob Manfred allowed it to. Per SNY's Andy Martino, the reality was different; the Yankees expressed an extreme unwillingness to include either Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza in such a trade, despite Oakland's persistence.
But, knowing what we know now, Volpe is entrenched in the Bronx as the starting shortstop. Yes, already. He wasn't going anywhere.
Peraza? He was demoted to Triple-A in the wake of that decision, rather than carried to the bigs as a bench bat. Now, out of necessity, he's popped up at the MLB level, playing third occasionally for the first time in his professional career. Let's say the Yankees include Peraza in the trade last winter, in addition to everyone later dealt for Frankie Montas (Ken Waldichuk, JP Sears, Luis Medina). Is that enough? Probably. Are they better off? Probably.
Should Yankees have traded for Matt Olson rather than re-signing Anthony Rizzo?
At the time, the Yankees were reticent to deal from their stockpile of middle infield talent, and probably leapt at the Montas deal later in the summer because his dinged-up shoulder allowed them to avoid trading Peraza (who still remains a somewhat unknown quantity in the Bronx).
In 2022, having Rizzo on a short-term contract over Olson on an eight-year pact actually ... might've been viewed as a win for the Yankees, especially if you consider a world where the Yankees don't take care of Olson financially and keep rolling the dice from year-to-year; he would've been controllable through 2023.
Last season, Rizzo out-OPS'd Olson .818 to .802. The 27-year-old Braves star saw his OPS dip over 100 points year-over-year from 2021 to 2022. Assuming the Yankees wouldn't have extended Olson (they wouldn't have, and if they had, it would've blocked a Carlos Rodón deal, since we know how they work), switching out one for the other last year wouldn't have provided a tangible benefit.
In 2023? After the Yankees took care of Rizzo's opt-out by guaranteeing him two more years, he's rewarded them with excellent play, OPS'ing .852 and batting nearly .300 while the rest of the roster craters. His back issues, which felled him in 2022, still likely linger, and the Yankees will just have to cross their fingers and mitigate them when necessary throughout his tenure.
Olson? He's up significantly in K percentage year-over-year, with the highest jump in the game through last week. He's also dominating, hitting 11 homers, knocking in 29 runs, and posting a .933 OPS. If you take away his long-term commitment, though, he's not a vastly more appealing option than Rizzo, especially for a roster with so many other holes. It's quite possible that Rizzo and Peraza will provide more this season and next for a Yankees team that can't afford to sacrifice any of the very few productive bats they have in the pipeline. Rizzo has a competent Statcast profile, while Olson's contact and barrel percentage are among the game's most powerful. That said, Rizzo's still at the portion of the aging curve where he can approximate Olson's production.
Was Aaron Judge pulling the strings here to keep his co-Captain around? If so, that's another piece of solid judgment, though it might seem different on the surface.