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3 ideal trade suitors for Braves ace Max Fried with contract extension approaching.

Max Fried, Atlanta Braves

If the Atlanta Braves decide to part ways with Max Fried in a contract year, these teams should jump at the opportunity.

The Atlanta Braves soared to a 104-win regular season, only to get shellacked by the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS (again). The primary culprit was a sudden frost settling over Atlanta’s all-time great offense, but pitching was another area of concern. Once the rotation moved past Spencer Strider, things got dicey.

Atlanta hoped Max Fried would be back up to speed for the playoffs after spending a large chunk of the campaign sidelined with a forearm injury. Fried only managed 14 starts in the regular season, posting an impressive 8-1 record with a 2.55 ERA and 1.133 WHIP. But, he finished on the 15-day IL with a finger injury, reinvigorating concerns about his postseason readiness after a strong return from the forearm malady.

Fried was the Braves’ No. 2 starter behind Spencer Strider in the NLDS. He ended up pitching in Atlanta’s only victory, but it wasn’t a strong outing from the 29-year-old. He allowed six hits and three earned runs in four innings, posting more walks (four) than strikeouts (three). It took a late-game surge and a clutch Austin Riley moonshot for the Braves to travel to Philadelphia tied 1-1, rather than down 0-2.

The Braves appear content with Fried at the moment, but there were whisperings of discontent last offseason when the Braves shorted Fried in arbitration. Now, he enters the final year of his contract under arbitration before unrestricted free agency in 2025.

If the Braves and Fried can’t come to terms on an extension soon, it could force Atlanta to consider trades for the 2021 World Series champion. With the pitching market so robust this offseason, now would be a good time for the Braves to recoup serious value for Fried.

Here are a few potential destinations if the Braves decide to cut ties before free agency next winter.

3. Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles earned the No. 1 seed in the American League with a remarkable 101-win campaign. Previously an afterthought, the Orioles emerged as a legitimate contender with a well-balanced lineup and a slew of talented young players who are starting to put the pieces together.

One thing missing from the Orioles’ puzzle, however, is an ace on the mound. Baltimore’s shoddy pitching rotation was a death sentence in the postseason. The Texas Rangers, with arguably the best pitching staff in baseball, swept them 3-0. It was a swift and sudden end to a magical Orioles season, and a sobering reminder that even great offensive teams can succumb to subpar pitching.

Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, and Dean Kremer all turned in poor performances on the big stage. While the Orioles are not a historically liquid franchise, it’s easier for small-market teams to justify high expenses when the team wins over 100 games. The Orioles are clearly within grasp of their first World Series win since 1983. Now is the time to shell out a couple assets for a star of Max Fried’s caliber.

Fried would immediately assume the top ace mantle in Baltimore’s rotation. All of the Orioles’ top starters at the moment are right-handed. Fried would add an elite southpaw to the mix. He pitches to contact as well as any pitcher, which suits him well to the Orioles’ elite defense.

There’s a real chance Fried could push Baltimore to the next level of contention.

2. Los Angeles Angels

The Braves probably won’t trade Fried to a National League rival, such as the Phillies or the Los Angeles Dodgers. Why make your primary competition stronger? But, there are several American League teams in need of a boost to their pitching staff. Few more than the Los Angeles Angels.

Shohei Ohtani’s future with the franchise is very much in doubt. Even if Ohtani does return, there’s a good chance he won’t pitch in 2024 as he recovers from a second UCL injury in his elbow. The Angels’ current collection of starters includes Reid Demters, Griffin Canning, Chase Silseth, and Patrick Sandoval — 24, 27, 23, and 27 years old, respectively. It’s an extremely young group, which does fit the theoretical rebuilding timeline post-Ohtani.

But, if the Angels want to put a half-decent foot forward — especially if Mike Trout sticks around — it could behoove them to add a veteran ace to the roster. Max Fried is an All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove winner who finished second in Cy Young voting in 2022. When he’s right, he is on the shortlist of best pitchers in the game. That would drastically improve the Angels’ outlook. If Ohtani does come back, then it makes even more sense. He will want to make the playoffs at some point.

It has been a difficult six-year stretch for the Angels since Ohtani was brought on board. Regardless of how free agency plays out, next season has to feel different. Fried is a major step in the right direction, and the caliber of player needed to finally push the Angels toward a postseason berth. There are health concerns after his recent spate of bumps and bruises, but generally, Fried delivers when he’s at 100 percent.

1. Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are expected to target upgrades to the pitching staff after a disappointing last-place finish in the American League East. Craig Breslow’s arrival in the front office promises change and there’s a sense of urgency to pair Brayan Bello with a proper ace following Chris Sale’s noticeable decline in 2023.

Boston has been floated as a potential landing spot for several juicy free agents, from Blake Snell, to Yoshinobu Yamamoto, or Eduardo Rodriguez. But, don’t count out the possibility of solution via trade. Fried could theoretically out-pitch every free agent on the market. It would cost assets to acquire him — not to mention the inevitably pricey contract extension — but he’s a relatively young ace, still on the right side of 30. The Red Sox should have interest.

There are other areas for Boston to improve, of course. According to Baseball Savant, the Red Sox collectively accrued the fewest outs above average (-50) on defense last season. Fried managed just fine with a good-not-great Braves defense, but he’s a pitcher who tends to keep the ball in play. He posted a 39.2 percent ground ball rate (97th percentile) and a low barrel percentage (3.2, in the 95th percentile) last season. Boston will want a strong infield behind him.

In the end, those are changes Boston should want to make with or without Fried. The defense has to get better, as does the offense. Last season was wholly disappointing for one of baseball’s true prestige franchises. Expect drastic action from the front office, with Fried very much on the radar if the Braves decide to trade him before his contract expires.

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