Based on how the 2021 season ended, the Yankees front office appears likely to make changes at first base at some point this offseason. Luke Voit lost the starting role due to injuries, then barely played after the team acquired Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs. That lack of playing time makes it seem unlikely that Brian Cashman feels comfortable going into 2022 with him as the starter there. A trade or free agent signing is probably on the horizon.
There have been rumors that Rizzo would like to re-sign with New York, but to me that’s an unappealing option. He was a much better defender than Voit, sure, but he’s getting old, and the Yankees are used to receiving better than his .248/.334/.440 production from last season at first.
Luckily for the Yankees, the Oakland Athletics all but announced that they’re having a fire sale by letting their beloved manager Bob Melvin take a new job with the San Diego Padres even though he was still under contract. They’ve telegraphed their desire to cut payroll, with players like Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt on the trade block. But no player on the A’s has been in more trade rumors so far than first baseman Matt Olson. The Yankees are rumored to be having discussions about him, and the team would be better if they could pull off a trade.
Olson, who will turn 28 shortly before the start of the 2022 season, will not be a free agent until after the 2023 season, which would give the Yankees some much needed stability assuming he can stay healthy. He’s known as a great defensive player, having won the Fielding Bible Award at first every year from 2018 through 2020. Oddly, his outs above average numbers have sharply declined, going from 8 in 2019 to only 1 in 2021. Still, a bounce back is more than possible, and his history of good fielding is a lot longer than Voit’s.
While he struggled offensively during the shortened 2020 season, Olson bounced back in a big way this past year, putting up 5.0 fWAR and hitting 39 home runs as part of his .271/.371/.540 batting line. As a left-handed batter, his power numbers could even go up playing half his games at Yankee Stadium. Baseball Savant put his 2021 max exit velocity in the 95th percentage of MLB and his walk rate in the 92nd—in fact, all of his ratings were above the median. Olson’s .269 BABIP in 2021 wasn’t even the highest of his career either, suggesting that his numbers were those of a player entering his prime and not a lucky fluke.
Considering the season he’s coming off of, Oakland certainly isn’t going to give Olson away for a pittance, but he’s arbitration eligible and due for a big raise from his $5 million salary in 2021. The A’s, sadly for their fans, are notoriously cheap and possible trying to shed as much money as possible before moving the franchise to Las Vegas. They have every incentive to move Olson if getting rid of salary is their goal. The Yankees front office, meanwhile, is now insisting that they once again have money to burn.
If the Yankees are truly done with Voit, Olson seems like the way to go. There aren’t free agent first basemen more promising than Rizzo besides Freddie Freeman, who is almost certainly going to rejoin the Atlanta Braves. And the Yankees need to do better than Rizzo, and DJ LeMahieu has a lot more value as a middle infielder. If Oakland’s prospect demands aren’t truly ridiculous, it’s a trade the Yankees ought to make if they’re serious about improving the team for 2022 and beyond.