A recent report from Justin Toscano of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has brought Max Fried‘s pending free agency following next season to light.
“According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Braves and Fried’s camp had discussions about a potential extension before the 2023 season,” Toscano writes. “The sides had a back-and-forth dialogue and exchanged numbers, but those conversations eventually reached an impasse. That is believed to be the last time the Braves and Fried talked about an extension.”
Given what’s happened with Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson in recent years, this is an all too familiar situation for Braves fans. Max Fried has been here since the beginning of the rebuild; in fact, he kicked it off when the Braves acquired him in a trade that netted the Padres Justin Upton. Since then, Fried has blossomed into arguably the best left-handed starting pitcher on the planet. He’s been the ace of the Braves staff for nearly five years, responsible for one of the single greatest pitching performances in franchise history, when he helped shut out the Houston Astros in a series-clinching Game 6 of the 2021 World Series.
Much like Freeman and Swanson before him, Fried looks as if he’s destined to hit free agency, where a bidding war will occur, something the Braves haven’t won since Alex Anthopoulos took over as GM. The Braves have never spent more than $76 million on one player in free agency, and if Fried can have another productive and healthy season in 2024, he’s likely to command something closer to $200 million.
There’s no reason to think the Braves will win that battle next winter, so it feels like their only hope of retaining Max Fried is to ink him to an extension before he hits the open market. Which begs the question — how high should the Braves go to try and get that done right now?
Since we know the Braves and Fried’s camp have exchanged figures, let’s begin with what I believe the Braves offered, and it very well may be a firm number that won’t change. That was the case with Freddie Freeman, as they wouldn’t budge on a sixth year, and they also never offered Dansby Swanson more than $100 million.
A year ago, lefty ace Carlos Rodon inked a six-year, $162 million contract with the Yankees. At the time, he and Fried were comparable pitchers, and coincidently, that’s the exact contract offer that the Braves reportedly offered Aaron Nola before he re-upped with the Phillies on a seven-year deal.
I imagine the Braves offered something very similar to Max Fried when numbers were exchanged, somewhere in the six-year, $150-165 million range, and they probably weren’t willing to budge. Fried and his representatives walked away from the table, and I honestly can’t blame them.
Fried may not blow people away with strikeouts like some of the other top pitchers in the league, but his run prevention cannot be ignored. He boasts a 2.66 ERA since 2020. Rodon had a couple of fantastic seasons before hitting free agency, but the track records between the two are not comparable.
Nola’s number over that same timeframe isn’t even close. He’s recorded an even 4.00 ERA since 2020; however, there is something to be said for his durability. Nola has never suffered a significant injury, making at least 27 starts in every season since 2017, outside of the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Still, by all accounts, Fried is a better pitcher than Nola who just inked a seven-year, $172 million contract with the Phillies. With another healthy campaign, Fried will easily top that figure in free agency.
However, health is part of the factor that must be considered. Fried’s dealt with several minor issues that have caused him to miss short stints, but most notably, he missed over half of last year with an elbow injury. It was deemed he did not need Tommy John surgery, but one has to wonder if that is in the back of Alex Anthopoulos’ mind when considering extending him for more than six years.
But I can only go off what we know. Assuming Max Fried is healthy going into 2024, there’s no reason the Braves shouldn’t be willing to offer at least something similar to what Nola received from the Phillies — seven years, $172 million. My gut tells me the Braves haven’t gone that far yet, but if they’re willing, I do think an extension with Max Fried is possible before he tests the open waters of free agency.
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