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Braves, Max Fried Discussed Extension Prior To 2023 Season.

Braves reportedly had failed extension talks with starting pitcher

The Braves and left-hander Max Fried had talks about a contract extension prior to the start of last season, according to Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Obviously no agreement was reached, and it isn’t known if any more negotiations have since taken place between the two sides.

As expected, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos gave no hints when speaking with Toscano and other reporters at the Winter Meetings, saying “We have [Fried] under contract for ‘24; he’s not under contract for 2025.  Obviously, anything beyond that, we’re going to keep that private.  I can go into all the comments about how great he is, but I’ve done that many times in the past….We always have an eye on ‘25, but the focus for us is ‘24.”

2023 was a difficult season for Fried, who pitched only 77 2/3 innings during the regular season due to a forearm strain, a hamstring strain, and a blister problem that emerged in late September.  Fried didn’t pitch from September 21 until Game 2 of the NLDS on October 9, and the long layoff could’ve contributed to his shaky performance of three runs allowed over four innings of work (though Game 2 was Atlanta’s lone win of the NLDS).

Despite the injuries and the Braves’ disappointingly short playoff run, Fried still delivered when he was healthy enough to pitch.  The southpaw posted a 2.55 ERA over his 77 2/3 regular-season frames, as well as a 25.7% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate that bettered his career averages in both categories heading into 2023.  The injury concerns can’t be completely set aside heading into next season and into the future, yet there is no doubt that Fried still looks like one of baseball’s top pitchers.

That track record has manifested itself with a $14.4MM projected salary for Fried this winter as he enters his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility as a Super Two player.  Considering that Fried and the Braves have gone to hearings in each of the last two offseasons (Fried won in 2022, the Braves won in 2023), this will be one of the more interesting arbitration situations to monitor this winter, even if Fried’s injuries will limit his raise to only slightly beyond his $13.5MM salary for 2023.

There’s still plenty of time for the Braves and Fried’s representatives at CAA to work out an extension, and continue Atlanta’s strategy of locking up its stars to long-term deals.  As Toscano notes, however, the team doesn’t extend everyone, as Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson both departed in free agency in each of the last two offseasons.  The Braves have also tended to pursue extensions with players earlier in their careers, not players as close to free agency as Fried.  From the pitcher’s perspective, he might also not want to sign a long-term deal coming off a relative down year, as a healthy and effective 2024 campaign will put Fried in line for a hefty contract next winter.

For speculation’s sake, it seems unlikely that Atlanta might consider dealing Fried this offseason if they think an extension can’t or won’t be worked out.  Anthopoulos certainly has a long history of bold trades, yet since Atlanta is already looking to starting pitching, it would take a particularly creative move or sets of moves to bolster the rotation while also moving arguably the team’s best starter.  Considering what happened with Freeman and Swanson, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Braves keep Fried and then let him get to free agency and perhaps depart.

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