With Aaron Nola off the board, the Braves need to extend Max Fried now

The Braves need an ace after the 2024 season. Why look elsewhere on the free agent market when Max Fried is already on the team?

Aug 26, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) throws
Aug 26, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) throws / Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports
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Aaron Nola is returning to the Philadelphia Phillies on a seven-year, $172 million contract. The Braves were connected with the righty this offseason and will now look elsewhere for starting pitching for the 2024 season.

Had the Braves landed Nola, the team would have had a second quality starter to pair with Spencer Strider for beyond the 2024 season.

However, considering the current starting pitching market this year and next year, the Braves should prioritize extending Max Fried rather than pursuing a different ace.

Max Fried would not be the typical Braves extension

The 2022 MLB All-Star Game Red Carpet Show
The 2022 MLB All-Star Game Red Carpet Show / Jerritt Clark/GettyImages

A Max Fried extension would not be cheap. Unlike the myriad of long-term extensions Braves players have signed since 2019, none have come in the final year of the player's contract. In fact, of the seven long-term extensions, only Matt Olson and Sean Murphy were arbitration-eligible.

Fried, on the other hand, is in the final year of arbitration. The lefty is projected to earn between $14.4 million and $21.6 million in 2024.

The 29-year-old ace will likely be looking at a similar contract to the one Nola signed this offseason (or higher), considering his value in arbitration.

If the Braves secured a Max Fried extension, it would have to be for market value. The lefty would be taking home the highest AAV in Braves history and likely upwards of seven years.

The Braves shouldn't sign an ace to replace Fried

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers
Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

The Braves have been hesitant to offer long-term market value deals for players who are entering their thirties. They didn't re-sign Freddie Freeman, they didn't re-sign Dansby Swanson.

In Freeman's case, the Braves balked at six years. Instead, they went younger and cheaper with Matt Olson. In Swanson's case, they weren't willing to match the sky-high cost the Cubs were willing to pay a player who had only hit above league average twice in his career.

But the Braves should make their exception for Fried. Of course, extending the lefty comes with risks. He's coming off an injury-riddled year. He'll turn 30 next season.

The team simply does not have the prospect capital to acquire a younger, controllable arm in the same way they acquired Matt Olson and Sean Murphy. The options right now for a top-of-the-rotation arm after the 2024 season is either Max Fried or a free agent.

If the Braves pursue a free agent with a Qualifying Offer attached to them, the team will not only give up two draft picks, they will also lose $1 million in their international bonus pool.

That means if the Braves pursue Blake Snell or Sonny Gray (the latter is currently 34 years old), they would not only be paying them their long-term market value, but they'd also be losing out on key elements to rebuilding their farm system.

To make matters worse, if the Braves lost Fried in free agency, they would not receive the same compensation in return. In fact, if the team goes over the Competitive Balance Tax, the best they would receive is a fourth-round pick.

Extending Max Fried is worth it, even if it's expensive

The Braves need starting pitching this offseason, but their long-term ace is already on the team. Rather than spending $100 million on a 34-year-old Sonny Gray and lose two draft picks and $1 million in their international bonus pool, the Braves should spend $200 million for a 29-year-old who is already familiar with the team.

The injury concerns with Fried are legitimate, but no pitcher is immune from injuries. Gray missed significant portions of 2021 and 2022. Prior to this season, Fried had missed no more than five starts in a given season. His floor has been 3.0 fWAR over a full season.

Since entering the Braves rotation in 2019, Fried has been a top-15 pitcher in all of baseball. Unless the team plans on paying the market rate for Corbin Burnes in 2025, any starter the Braves sign will be worse than the starter who is currently on the roster. Even if they sign Burnes, the penalty of the QO will be worse than simply paying Fried what he wants.

It's time for the Braves to break the bank.

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