Since the beginning of the offseason, it has seemed like a fire sale is imminent for the Athletics. One of the most obvious candidates to be dealt as part of any cost-cutting moves has been Matt Olson. Indeed, he was the first name mentioned in MLBTR’s recent list of likely post-lockout trade candidates. Over the past few months, there has been reported interest from the Rangers, Yankees and Braves, but could the Guardians be a surprise entrant into the Olson sweepstakes?
Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer looked into this possibility in a recent mailbag. In response to a reader who heard the club could be interested in the first baseman, Hoynes responded by saying, “It makes sense, but that doesn’t make it true.”
Olson’s bat would indeed make a lot of sense for the Guardians, given their meager offensive production in 2021. As a team, they hit .238/.303/.407 last year, producing a wRC+ 93, seven percentage points below league average. Olson, meanwhile, had the best season of his career thus far, hitting .271/.371/.540 for a wRC+ of 146. MLBTR projects him to earn $12MM in arbitration this year, a salary that even a low-budget team like the Guardians could afford. Their 2022 payroll is projected below $50MM at the moment, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, leaving plenty of room for a salary in that range.
Olson would be a clear upgrade over Bobby Bradley, Cleveland’s current first baseman. The 25-year-old hit 16 home runs last year but struck out in 35.5% of his plate appearances. In the end, he produced a line of .208/.294/.445, putting him just a hair below league average, wRC+ of 99. Bradley has less than one year of MLB service time, meaning he has six years of club control remaining. Given his youth and years of control, he could appeal to an Oakland team that is looking to cut salary. The Athletics have frequently targeted MLB-ready players when making these types of deals in the past, making a Bradley-Olson framework a logical start to a deal.
Hoynes suggests just such a framework as the backbone of a trade, but with the Guardians also throwing in a middle infielder and starting pitcher to balance it out. Cleveland has an abundance of middle infielders on the 40-man roster, making it easy to see them subtracting from that depth. At the moment, Jose Ramirez, Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez are likely to fill out the infield along with Bradley. But the roster also features Yu Chang, Owen Miller, Ernie Clement, Richie Palacios, Brayan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman, Gabriel Arias and Jose Tena as players with some middle infield capabilities on the 40-man.
The same is true of the team’s starting depth, as the roster currently has Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, Sam Hentges, Logan Allen, Eli Morgan, Cody Morris, Tobias Myers and Konnor Pilkington as potentials for the rotation. It’s feasible the club could view this as a surplus they could use as part of a trade, but given how injuries in the rotation largely torpedoed their chances in 2021, they might be inclined to hang onto all of these arms for now.
Despite the lack of offense and multiple pitcher injuries in 2021, Cleveland still managed to finish with a record of 80-82. With some better health in the rotation and the addition of an impact bat such as Olson’s, they could get back into contention this year, especially if the new CBA results in expanded playoffs.