2 Braves players that absolutely deserve contract extensions, 1 to avoid

The Braves have been very good about locking their players up, but there are a couple more guys that deserve it as well.

Oct 9, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) pitches during
Oct 9, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) pitches during / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Braves under Alex Anthopoulos have been very good about locking up this young core that the Braves have built over the last several years. Ever since the Braves signed Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies to extensions back in 2019, the Braves have consistently handed out extensions to homegrown talent and new acquisitions alike with Matt Olson, Spencer Strider, Austin Riley, Michael Harris, and Sean Murphy all also getting locked up beyond their arbitration years as well.

This strategy isn't without risk or downside. While all of these guys seem likely to outperform the terms of their deals to varying degrees (still have no idea how the Braves got Ozzie to sign his deal), many of these guys signed very early on in their careers which could easily not work out and any long-term guaranteed deal could turn into an albatross in a hurry if things go south. Moreover, all of these contracts end up weighing heavily on the Braves when it comes to the luxury tax as that is calculated based on the average value of a player's contract, not just what they are owed for a given year.

All of that said, the Braves front office's strategy is a sound one. Making sure these guys are in the fold allows for a lot better financial planning and cost control for the future and seemingly insures that this Braves team is going to be a good for a long time. However, there are a couple contract extension decisions out there that still need to be made.

Here are a couple contract extensions the Braves need to give out and one that they should avoid

As much good as all of these contract extensions have done for the Braves, they still need to be cautious. The last thing they want to do is commit a lot of years and money long-term to guys that won't last for the full course of the deal. Moreover, there is a price point for every player that becomes unreasonable and Atlanta shouldn't force extensions on over-market deals if they have any desire to remain aggressive in adding to their roster for future seasons.

Let's take a look at a couple Braves players that absolutely deserve contract extensions in some form as well as one the Braves should probably avoid.

AJ Minter

Lost in all of the moves that the Braves have done to bolster their bullpen this offseason is the fact that AJ Minter has been an absolute stud out of the Atlanta bullpen for a long time now. Aside from the 2019 season where he was banged up from a car accident that spring, AJ has been basically a lock to give the Braves a 3ish ERA and 60-70 appearances every season. His performance in the postseason has been great, he misses bats, and his stuff from the left side passes the eye test.

The problem, of course, is that he is a reliever and that in itself is a challenge. Relievers are far and away the most volatile position in the game of baseball. Because of flaws in their deliveries, injuries, or simple mileage on their arms, we see bullpen arms flame out in the game of baseball every single season. As a result, you very rarely see bullpen arms get longer than three year deals because, well, teams are really tempting fate going any longer than that.

Despite all of that, Minter is a guy the Braves should look to lock up after the 2024 season. He is currently projected to make $6.5 million in arbitration this coming season and would probably require more than that per year to keep around, but a three year, $27 million extension feels about right for a guy that has been a very solid set-up guy and looks like he could stay in the role for a while.

Sure, Minter does have an arm surgery in his past and the move wouldn't be without risk, but a three year deal would mostly protect the Braves from being too invested in him while making sure this loaded Braves bullpen sticks together for a while longer.

Travis d'Arnaud

On the flip side of the extension coin, we have Travis d'Arnaud. There is no denying that TdA has been a godsend for the Braves. His first season with the Braves in 2020 saw him post a .919 OPS (the best mark of his career by a wide margin), he was named an All-Star in 2022, and he has been instrumental in managing the Braves' pitching staff from day one. He has just been an absolute gamer and Atlanta has been better with him around.

However, there have been signs that Travis is beginning to decline. A thumb injury in 2021 cost him a bunch of time and then in 2023, a concussion on a play at the plate took him out for a chunk of the first half and he wasn't the same guy when he returned as he hit .225 with a .685 OPS in 292 plate appearances last year.

Unfortunately, catchers have a limited shelf life as the physical demands of the position do not lend themselves to lengthy careers. Frankly, Travis has already beaten odds to make it this long. At 34 years old (and soon to be 35), it is probably fair to expect his career to wind down over the next couple of years which is exactly why the Braves made the move to snag Sean Murphy last offseason.

Fortunately, that lines up perfectly with his current deal with the Braves as he makes $8 million in 2024 and has a club option for the same amount for 2025. He is certainly good enough for the Braves to play next season, but every year after that should be very much on a case-by-case basis instead of locking the team in on a deal that could flame out in a hurry.

Max Fried

Now, we come to the elephant in the room in Max Fried. A potential Fried contract extension has been a hot topic for a while now and with good reason. Since 2020, Max has a pair of top 5 Cy Young finishes, three Gold Gloves, and has put up a 2.66 ERA in 83 starts. Those are big-time numbers no matter how you slice them.

For the moment, the Braves don't have a true starter outside of Spencer Strider on a guaranteed deal beyond next season. Sure, Atlanta is really pushing this "Reynoldo Lopez in the rotation" idea hard right now, but a healthy amount of skepticism should be warranted there. The Braves have a guy in Fried in the organization right now that is a borderline ace and he is a free agent after the 2024 season. How could they possibly let him walk?

There are a couple reasons why an extension hasn't gotten done yet. One, Max is in line to get a LOT of money in free agency and on his end, the idea of at least having other bidders for his services on an open market is likely to put more dollars in his pocket and no one should blame a guy for wanting to get his bag. Second, pitchers are a bit spookier to give big time deals to and at almost 30 years old and with a recent history of arm trouble, exercising caution isn't the worst idea.

In the end, the Braves should really push to extend Fried as he has been just too important to the club's rotation. However, there needs to be a cap to what they are willing to spend on him given his age and the fact that he had elbow issues in 2023 and already has a Tommy John on his ledger. Carlos Rodon's six year, $162 million deal seems like a good place to start a conversation and Max is probably worth a bit more than that. However, if keeping Max in the fold is going to cost significantly more than that, then Atlanta may need to pass and let him hit free agency.

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