3 reasons for the Braves to extend Max Fried and 2 reasons why they shouldn't

Max Fried is one of the best pitchers in baseball and will be a free agent after next season, but should the Braves try and extend him?

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St. Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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Since 2019, Max Fried has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. His 15.1 fWAR in the last four seasons is 14th-best in MLB, despite the lefty missing significant time this season.

But as he enters into what could be his final season in a Braves uniform, is his production good enough for Atlanta to offer a big contract extension? Has he been so good that the team can't afford him?

3 reasons the Braves need to extend Max Fried

1. He's an ace you can't replace

Max Fried is a legitimate ace, and there are very few pitchers of his caliber on the free-agent market from year to year. Even when there are, they come at a high price tag.

Since joining the rotation full-time in 2019, he has the 14th-best fWAR in MLB and the 8th-best ERA.

READ: One player that could make the Atlanta Braves a lock for the 2024 World Series

Of the 13 pitchers with a higher fWAR over this five-season period, five of them have won a Cy Young Award (Justin Verlander twice, Shane Bieber, Sandy Alcantara, and Jacob deGrom).

Max Fried is the fifth-youngest player of the top-20 starting pitchers since 2019, as well, meaning that if the Braves did opt for top-tier talent that isn't named Max Fried on the free-agent market, they'd almost certainly be getting older.

2. He is the veteran presence

Despite still being relatively young, Max Fried is now the veteran presence in the rotation, especially if Charlie Morton decides to retire.

Kyle Wright is out for the 2024 season, which means that Fried will be at least three years older than a rotation that has Strider, Elder, and a mix of Shuster, Dodd, Vines, and Soroka.

The Braves ace lefty has been in the league since 2017 and is the second-longest tenured Braves player. He is one of only three Braves who played on the 2017 team left on the roster.

As the starting rotation is getting younger, extending Fried keeps on an ace and a leader.

3. He's consistent

Like any pitcher, Max Fried isn't immune to bad starts, but he certainly limits them better than anyone. He's made 113 starts since 2019, and he's only allowed four or more earned runs in 17 of those starts. By contrast, he's allowed one or fewer earned runs in 43 of those starts.

When Fried takes the hill, he's had a quality start (a start of more than six innings and three or fewer runs allowed) in 58% of the games he's started. He's allowed two or fewer runs while going five innings in 67% of his starts.

With the Braves farm system still thin, it's not likely the team will have another starter match Fried's production to pair with Spencer Strider as the aces of the staff.

2 reasons they Braves won't extend Max Fried

1. The Braves can't afford him

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two
Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game Two / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Every Brave who has signed an extension over the last five seasons has signed below market value. Max Fried will almost certainly not sign for anything that's not within the going rate for an ace who is just turning 30.

So, what would a contract of that caliber look like?

When Gerrit Cole signed his nine-year, $324 million contract in 2020, he had a higher career ERA than Max Fried does now and a FIP of only 0.16 runs better.

Of course, Cole had more innings and strikeouts than Fried will by the end of next year, but Cole was only 8 months younger when he signed his big deal than Fried is now. Aside from Cole, no other pitcher in the last half-decade who has hit free agency has been as consistent and dominant as Fried.

Kevin Gausman, who got a five-year, $110 million contract in 2022 had already been DFA'd by the Braves and non-tendered and signed a one-year prove-it deal prior to hitting it big.

READ: Should the Braves bring back Michael Soroka for the 2024 season?

Carlos Rodon was also non-tendered prior to hitting free agency and signed two one-year prove-it deals, once with the White Sox, who non-tendered him after 2020, and once with San Francisco in 2022. Rodon parlayed the second prove-it deal into a six-year, $162 million deal.

Fried likely won't get the same deal as Gerrit Cole. However, it's not unreasonable to predict, considering the deals other pitchers are getting, that Max could get upwards of $200 million in free agency.

Max Fried is a union representative and it's in the players' best interest if Fried does maximize his contract. But, with the Braves' current payroll, it's questionable if they could afford to pay a starter who makes an average of $30 million a year.

2. Long-term contracts for 30-year-old pitchers hardly work out

There's a reason the Braves are hesitant to hand out long-term deals to pitchers. The fact is, they seldom work out for the team. For every Max Scherzer/Nationals contract, you have many, many Patrick Corbin-type deals.

Chris Sale, who signed his extension in 2019 for five years and $145 million ($29 million AAV), has pitched 151 innings in the four seasons his contract has been active. That's a total of 151 innings in four seasons.

Carlos Rodon, whose six-year, $162 million deal just started in 2023, is already looking like a mistake. The lefty had a 6.85 ERA and 5.79 FIP in the 64.1 innings he did manage to pitch in.

Patrick Corbin, who has managed to stay healthy, has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball during his six-year, $140 million contract, aside from his 2019 season, which helped net the Nationals their first-ever World Series.

Fried's 2023 was marred by injuries, and if he even has a minor injury hiccup in 2024, the Braves might decide he's not worth the risk.