ATLANTA -- Ronald Acuña Jr. will draw a higher average value through what would have been his arbitration-eligible seasons than Bryce Harper and Manny Machado did during theirs. But instead of chasing the $300 million deals these two stars just gained after their 25-year-old seasons, Acuna will approach his 30th birthday savoring the financial comfort and security he’s already gained from the Braves.
Acuna certainly didn’t attempt to hide his excitement or appreciation when he arrived at SunTrust Park late Tuesday afternoon for the announcement of his eight-year, $100 million contract extension, which includes a $17 million option and $10 million buyout for both the 2027 and '28 seasons. If the young outfielder lives up to expectations, the $124 million he would receive over the next 10 years will be viewed as a team-friendly deal.
But given the uncertainty of how the next decade might elapse, the current winner of this deal is the recently turned 21-year-old outfielder, who has already been guaranteed $100 million just 115 games into his Major League career. The extension is the largest ever given to a player with as little service time as Acuna (165 days).
"Really more than anything, the contract is about where I want to be,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “I want to be here in Atlanta. I want to be part of the Braves organization. I love my teammates. I love the organization. I love the fans. I love Atlanta."
Once Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos assessed Acuna during Spring Training and became confident the humble phenom’s work ethic and personality had not been affected by the fame he earned last year, the GM began constructing this deal.
Acuna will draw a $1 million salary over the remainder of this season, and again next year. His salary will jump to $5 million in 2021, which would have been the first of four arbitration-eligible seasons he’d have gained as a Super Two qualifier. The Venezuelan outfielder will make $15 million in 2022, and $17 million during each of the four remaining guaranteed years of the deal.
If both option years are exercised, the Braves would control Acuna at an average annual value of $12.4 million over 10 seasons. Acuna will be 30 during what would be the last possible season covered within this deal. Thus, there’s a chance he would have an opportunity to gain one more big contract via free agency.
“Hopefully, this isn’t the last deal we do with him,” Anthopoulos said. “Hopefully, he ends his career as a Brave and he goes in the Hall of Fame one day as a Brave. But this is a starting point.”
The Braves are making this commitment to Acuna, despite the fact he has played just 115 games at the Major League level. The reigning National League Rookie of the Year Award winner missed a month with a knee injury last year and really didn’t get going until he hit 19 homers and produced a 1.028 OPS after last year’s All-Star break.
“What he did last year was just the tip of the iceberg,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said after Acuna hit his first homer of the season in Monday night’s win over the Cubs.
Acuna hit .293 with a team-high 26 home runs, a .917 OPS and 16 steals over 111 games last year. The young outfielder became one of five players in baseball history to hit 26 home runs in a season prior to his 21st birthday. He is also the 10th player in MLB history, and the first since Mike Trout in 2012, to have 25 home runs and 15 steals in his rookie season.
“This is the best young player I’ve seen,” Anthopoulos said. “Not that I’ve been around that long, but we’ve all seen the talent and beyond that, who Ronald is as a human being. He’s respectful, humble and more importantly, he wanted to be here.”
Acuna will draw a $13.4 million average annual value during what would have been his four arbitration-eligible seasons (2021-24). Harper drew a $13.3 million AAV during what would have been his three arbitration years, and Machado drew a $10.8 million AAV over his three arbitration seasons.
Looking at their age 26-30 seasons, Harper will make $114 million, Machado will rake in $130 million and Acuna could total $85 million. But while it can be said the Braves slugger is leaving potential money on the table, he feels comfortable knowing he already has guaranteed riches that will provide him and his family a lifetime worth of financial security.
“I have no regrets,” Acuna said. “Nobody can see in the future. Nobody can see what will happen tomorrow. I’m extremely happy with the decision we all made.”