What would a Max Fried extension look like?

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 23: Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 23, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 23: Max Fried #54 of the Atlanta Braves in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 23, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Braves are at a critical moment where a lot of their young talent is beginning to reach free agency. Dansby Swanson is the current piece that is uncertain whether he will return to his hometown team or not.

Max Fried could be the next Brave to leave the team as MLB.com’s Jim Callis stated on Hot Stove Tuesday morning that he’s hearing the Braves may trade the talented left-hander this winter. This is obviously a shock for most Braves fans to hear.

However, until that actually comes to fruition, Max Fried is still an Atlanta Brave. He is under team control until 2024 and has solidified himself as the ace of the staff. In the last three seasons, he has recorded a 2.68 ERA.

Fried also had one of the best seasons of his career in 2022. He pitched a career-high of 185.1 innings with 32 walks and 170 strikeouts. He also posted a career-best 2.70 FIP and an impressive 164 ERA+. All of these factors combined led to Fried finishing as the runner-up for the NL Cy Young Award.

With impressive numbers like that, it’s easy to see why extending a talented pitcher like Fried would be a challenge for any management to navigate. Fried is better than most pitchers his age and could command a multi-year deal with high AAV in the free agent market. The Atlanta Braves has always shown hesitance when considering signing large multi-year deals.

The largest deal that the Braves currently have on the books is for Austin Riley who signed a 10-year $212 million dollar extension last season which has an AAV of $21.2 million. Fried will absolutely command a salary that is much larger than that.

What would a Max Fried extension look like? 

First, we need to look into what other pitchers have gotten recently in extensions. Secondly, we need to consider the Braves’ payroll expectations and how that could impact a possible deal for Fried. We already know how well Fried has performed in his tenure with Atlanta so that’s an easy thing to navigate. There is plenty of value found in re-signing Max on a long-term deal.

Let’s discuss the Braves payroll expectations in 2023 (these numbers are current as of 12/15/2022 according to Spotrac).

  • Payroll expectations in 2023 
    • Active payroll: $152,175,000
    • Estimated arbitration salaries: $25,422,742
    • Estimated pre-arbitration salaries: $5,565,000
    • Active total payroll: $162,175,000
    • Projected total payroll: $193,162,742
  • Braves luxury tax payroll for 2023
    • 2023 tax threshold: $233,000,000
    • Total AAV/tax payroll: $174,800,000
    • Estimated arb AAV/payroll: $5,565,000
    • Estimated benefits: $16,500,000
    • Estimated Minor salaries: $2,250,000
    • Total tax allocations: $195,216,666
    • Projected total tax allocations: $226,204,408

These numbers put the Braves a little under the tax threshold for 2023 and depending on how the rest of the off-season goes, they could find themselves going over that threshold at any point.

This places Atlanta just behind the Mets, Yankees, and Phillies for the highest tax payrolls in all of Major League Baseball. These factors have to be considered when looking into a multi-year deal for Fried with a high AAV.

With that in mind, here are some recent starting pitching contracts from around Major League Baseball. This gives a good baseline for what Atlanta would need to offer to keep Fried from entering free agency.

Recent MLB Starting Pitcher Contracts

  •  Max Scherzer signed a 3-year/$130,000,000 contract with the New York Mets, including $130,000,000 guaranteed, and an AAV of $43,333,333.
  • Jose Berrios signed a 7-year/$131,000,000 contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, including a $5,000,000 signing bonus, $131,000,000 guaranteed, and an AAV of $18,714,286.
  • Luis Castillo signed a 5-year/$108,000,000 contract with the Seattle Mariners, including a $7,000,000 signing bonus, $108,000,000 guaranteed, and an AAV of $21,600,000.
  • Lance McCullers signed a 5-year/$85,000,000 contract with the Houston Astros, including $85,000,000 guaranteed, and an AAV of $17,000,000.
  • Joe Musgrove signed a 5-year/$100,000,000 contract with the San Diego Padres, including $100,000,000 guaranteed, and an AAV of $20,000,000.
  • Chris Sale signed a 5-year/$145,000,000 contract with the Boston Red Sox, including $145,000,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $29,000,000.
  • Carlos Rodon signed a 2-year/$44,000,000 contract with the San Francisco Giants, including $44,000,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $22,000,000.

Now, Rodon obviously opted out of his deal but keep in mind he’s the closest pitcher to the caliber of Max Fried. That would probably be a good baseline to judge once Rodon signs with a new team in 2023.

Looking at these contracts, there are a few ways Atlanta could go about it. The market is right now a mix of short deals with high AAV or more years at an AAV ranging between $17-$29 million. Safe to say Max Fried is better than almost every pitcher on the above list.

Five years feels like a safe bet for a starting point in negotiations with Fried. As far as AAV, Fried will absolutely want above $20 million. He’s much better than Joe Musgrove and could garner a deal similar to the one Chris Sale signed with the Red Sox.

Right now, the projection is that Max will earn $12.2 million in 2023 but his value is much higher than that and as a matter of fact, his arbitration number has doubled every year since 2021. He made $3.5 million in 2021 and $6.85 million in 2022. That $12.2 million figure seems fairly accurate but I’d say he has every right to want more than that.

Fried has won a Gold Glove three consecutive years and made the All-MLB team in those three years as well. He also appeared in his first All-Star Game in 2022. Considering all of those factors, he could easily argue for $24 million in 2024 if he continues to pitch as well as he has.

The California native could realistically sign a six year deal worth $180 million. That’s an AAV of $30 million. That seems like an absurd amount but considering how well Fried has performed and how the current market looks, it’s completely plausible and fair for him to argue for that deal.

Will the Braves meet that asking price? It’s hard to say. Again, Austin Riley currently has the highest AAV out of all Atlanta players. That deal only happened because Alex Anthopoulos saw the value and felt comfortable with it. Will he see Max Fried the same way? One would like to believe he does but he’s also shown hesitancy when it comes to long-term contracts.

Is Fried worthy of a high-dollar contract? 

It’s good for any General Manager to look at the value of their talent and if the dollar amounts make sense. Fried’s performance on the mound since 2020 points to the answer being and easy yes.

In the shortened 2020 season, Fried was 7-0 in 11 games across 56 innings pitched. His ERA was a career-best 2.25, a 208 ERA+, and a respectable 3.10 FIP. This was the season that Max began to figure out his place in MLB and showed everyone what he was capable of doing.

In 2021, Fried wasn’t setting career highs and struggled a little bit in the first half of the year but still finished with excellent numbers and helped lead the Braves to a World Series Championship.

2021 stats: 

Max Fried: 28 starts, 165.2 innings, 3.04 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 1.08 WHIP, 143 ERA+, 8.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 4.4 bWAR.

This showed Fried was very good but still had some room for improvement. There was a lot of maturity and grit shown by Max that season. It is what helped elevate him to the ace status that everyone around the league now recognizes him for. The ability to command his pitches, work out of jams, and stay poised on the mound.

2022 was a return to form for Fried: 

In 30 starts, Fried posted a 14-7 record with a 2.48 ERA, 170 strikeouts to 32 walks, and a career-best 1.014 WHIP. Fried threw 20 more innings in 2022, reaching a career-high of185.1 innings pitched. He was the absolute model of consistency and gave Atlanta a chance to win every time he took the mound.

The Atlanta ace was also able to attain a career-best 5.0 fWAR, which was good enough for 4th in the National League among pitchers in 2022. Oh, and his 2.48 ERA? That ranked him third in the National League and was the fourth-lowest single-season ERA among Braves’ LHP in the live ball era with a minimum of 150 IP just behind Warren Spahn, who did it twice, and Tom Glavine.

2022 also saw Fried set career highs in crucial metrics like:

BB/9 at 1.55 (2nd in NL)
xERA at 2.85 (4th in NL)
FIP at 2.70 (3rd in NL)
xFIP at 3.09 (4th in NL)
fWAR at 5.0 (4th in NL)

He showed an incredible ability to strand runners on base as he earned a career third-best 78.2% rate in 2022. That is exactly the type of numbers you need to see from the top of the rotation and I don’t think it’s crazy to assume that Max Fried can do it again in 2023.

The numbers don’t lie and Max Fried has proven time and time again that he is evolving into an elite pitcher. He would be a welcome sight for any MLB team and give them the confidence they are going to get his best each and every start.

Next. Atlanta Braves Left Field Trade Options. dark

I believe Atlanta Braves fans are going to see yet another incredible season from Max Fried. Hopefully, the Braves are able to work out a deal that keeps him around for a few more years. However, if they aren’t able to, it’s a good idea to just enjoy seeing one of the best pitchers take the mound in Atlanta every fifth game while he’s here.