How likely is a Fried extension with the Braves this offseason?

January 15th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Asked recently about the possibility of  re-signing with the Braves, I gave this social media response:

“I was convinced Freddie [Freeman] would return. I thought [Dansby] Swanson would return before it became obvious he wouldn’t about a week into last year’s offseason. My assumption is this will be Max’s last season [with the Braves]. So, he’ll probably sign a 20-year deal next week.”

I was joking. There’s no way Fried will get a 20-year deal. But I was serious about my assumption this upcoming season will be the last he spends with the Braves.

Was it nice to see the Braves avoided arbitration with Fried for a third straight year by giving him a one-year, $15 million deal on Friday? Sure. But that’s not going to influence the potentially big payday the left-hander could get once he hits free agency at the end of this year.

Could the Braves prevent Fried from reaching free agency by giving him an extension? Sure. But you have to weigh the motivation from both sides.

As you might remember, within a recent newsletter, I predicted Fried will win the National League Cy Young Award this year. If healthy, the lefty certainly has the potential of becoming the first Braves pitcher since Tom Glavine in 1998 to capture this honor. He has finished in the top five of balloting in two of the past four seasons.

Projected health was always going to be an issue for Fried, who turns 30 on Thursday. This became a bigger issue this past year, when left forearm inflammation limited the Braves veteran to just 14 starts. He remained healthy over the season’s final two months. But in this era of highly lucrative long-term deals, it’s worth questioning how high and how long a team should go with a veteran pitcher.

Aaron Nola received a seven-year, $172 million deal with the Phillies in November. Nola has posted a 4.09 ERA over 96 starts since the start of 2021. The 3.31 FIP he has constructed within this span indicates he’d have fared better with stronger defense. 

Fried has posted a 2.71 ERA and a 3.02 FIP over 72 starts within this same three-season span. Nola’s durability certainly carries some value, but Fried has been the more productive pitcher during this span.

So if he does stay healthy this upcoming season, there’s a good chance he’ll be getting a deal that mirrors or exceeds the one given to Nola, who turned 30 in June.

Nola’s contract has an average annual value of $24.6 million. Around this time last offseason, baseball evaluators were projecting Fried might get something similar to the six-year, $162 million ($27M AAV) Carlos Rodón got from the Yankees.

Rodón posted a 6.85 ERA over 14 starts for New York last season. Yankees fans can delight in the fact there are only five years and $135 million left on the 31-year-old hurler’s deal. 

Something could always transpire with Fried over the course of this year, but it just doesn’t feel like the time is right for he or the Braves to discuss an extension.

Coming off an injury-plagued season, Fried has the opportunity to re-strengthen his value and possibly earn $30 million a year with his next contract. Nobody is denying his capability of getting a big payday if he enters the free-agent market with Zack Wheeler, Walker Buehler and possibly Gerrit Cole next offseason. If you forgot how competition can financially aid free agents, remember what Swanson gained during the “year of the free-agent shortstops.”

Once teams are assured Fried’s forearm issue won’t create a lingering concern, it will be interesting to see the contract projections.

Sitting here in January, it makes no sense for the Braves to make an offer and even less sense for Fried to accept something before getting a chance to prove he is healthy. Maybe the time will be right in August or September.

But for now, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to anticipate a Fried extension.