Matt Olson is among the highest-profile trade targets on the market at the moment, and although the teams most often linked to him have been the Yankees, Rangers and Braves (presumably as a fallback if Freddie Freeman signs elsewhere), Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that the Guardians are also “in the mix” for the Athletics’ All-Star first baseman. Cleveland is currently exploring upgrades of varying quality at first base, in the outfield and in the bullpen, Rosenthal adds.
Armed with one of the deepest farm systems in the sport, the Guardians could easily put together a compelling package to pry Olson from Oakland. Cleveland is particularly deep in terms of controllable middle infield prospects, with shortstops Brayan Rocchio, Jose Tena, Tyler Freeman and Gabriel Arias all climbing the ranks behind presumptive big league double-play tandem Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez.
It’s possible that Gimenez himself could be of interest to the A’s or another trade partner; the 23-year-old switch-hitter struggled in 210 plate appearances with Cleveland last season but had a big showing in Triple-A and isn’t far removed from being regarded as one of the sport’s most promising prospects himself. He’s also controllable via arbitration through at least the 2026 season. Of course, Cleveland is deep in prospects at other positions as well. Outfielders George Valera and Steven Kwan, righty Daniel Espino and third baseman/outfielder Nolan Jones have all garnered attention on prospect rankings.
As for the fit regarding Olson, it’s a pretty straightforward one. No team in baseball got less production from its first basemen than Cleveland did in ’21. Bobby Bradley, Yu Chang, Jake Bauers, Owen Miller, Josh Naylor and even Harold Ramirez (two plate appearances) and Roberto Perez (one plate appearance) all saw time in the lineup at first base but combined for a disastrous .207/.275/.389 batting line. Olson, meanwhile, hit a career-best .271/.371/.540 while blasting 39 home runs and playing his typical brand of Gold Glove caliber defense.
The question for the Guardians is whether they’d be able to retain Olson beyond the 2023 season, when he’s currently scheduled to become a free agent. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects Olson to earn $12MM in arbitration this coming season, and he’d be owed one more raise for that ’23 campaign. If Olson replicates this past season’s production, he’d surely command more than $30MM in total over the next two seasons.
That’s a steep price for a Guardians club that is also looking at two more years of control over franchise cornerstone Jose Ramirez. A perennial MVP candidate, Ramirez has seen his own name bandied about the rumor mill, though he’s seemed like a long-shot, at best, to be moved this offseason. On the one hand, pairing up Ramirez and Olson would give the Guardians a dynamic heart-of-the-order pairing around which to build for the next two years.
It’d be a surprise to see the typically low-payroll Guardians extend both (or even one) to the type of nine-figure deal either could command, but a 2022-23 core of Olson, Ramirez, Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Franmil Reyes would give Cleveland plenty of high-quality talent at the heart of the roster. And, if things did truly go south and push the front office to consider a sell-off, both Olson and Ramirez would remain among the most sought-after players available whenever they hit the market.