How does Fried factor into Braves' future plans?

February 15th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As much as Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos would have liked to avoid the topic, he knew the start of Spring Training would bring the need for him to address the future of , who will be eligible to become a free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

Anthopoulos was asked if he planned to talk to Fried to just ensure they had a mutual understanding entering this season.

“I wouldn't announce it if we did,” Anthopoulos said. “I'm confident that our guys know where they stand with us. Max certainly does. I saw his answers from Braves Fest. I thought they were great. That wasn't me sitting down with him and saying, 'Hey, let's agree that we're going to say this.' That was just Max being Max being honest, you know?”

While many of the Braves’ top stars have been given long-term extensions over the past few years, Fried is staring at the possibility of being one of the top starting pitchers on next year’s free-agent market. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering this could net him an annual salary of approximately $30 million.

But for now, Fried will need to answer questions regarding the uncertainty that surrounds him beyond this season. This was the response he provided when speaking to media members at Braves Fest on Jan. 27:

“It’s out of my control right now,” Fried said. “But the Braves do things a certain way and I know that privacy and doing things behind closed doors is the way things are done. I respect that. I know I love being here and I’m really excited to get started with this group.”

Fried has the chance to be part of a special group as he joins fellow Cy Young Award candidate Spencer Strider at the front of Atlanta’s rotation. Charlie Morton and Chris Sale will fill two other spots. The fifth spot will likely be filled by either Reynaldo López or Bryce Elder.

The Braves won 104 games and a sixth straight National League East title in 2023 -- despite multiple ailments, including a left forearm strain, limiting Fried to just 14 regular season starts.

Fried has posted a 2.71 ERA and a 3.02 FIP while making 72 starts over the past three seasons. He finished fifth in NL Cy Young balloting in 2020 and second in '22.

“It goes without saying that he is great,” Anthopoulos said. “Any time you have a great player in a free-agent year, it’s going to be a topic. Our goal will always be to keep these guys while also making sure that we're keeping a competitive club around them. That’s the trick, trying to balance it out.”

The Braves will get a better feel for their projected future rotations as this year progresses. If top prospects A.J. Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep make strong progress, could they position themselves for rotation spots in 2024? Can Chris Sale be counted on again for '25? Where will Elder and Ian Anderson stand at the end of this season?

The answers to each of these questions will help in the event that Fried and the 40-year-old Morton don’t return next year. Strider is under control through 2028 and has an option for '29. Sale is under control through '25 and has an option for '26.

Fried debuted in 2017 and became a mainstay on Atlanta’s pitching staff in '18. He became the team’s ace after Michael Soroka was injured during the early part of the '20 season, and he became a World Series hero when he threw six scoreless innings after getting his ankle crushed during the first inning of the decisive Game 6 in '21.

Fried will forever be recognized as an Atlanta sports legend. But it looks like he’ll enter this season not knowing whether this will be his last with the Braves.

“This is all I really know,” said Fried, who has been part of the Braves’ organization since being acquired from the Padres ahead of the 2015 season. “This organization has been nothing but supportive to me. I know the fans and city have really embraced me. I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”