2022 was the extension season for the Atlanta Braves. Key contributors like Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II got paydays and additions like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies among the players who will be Braves for the foreseeable future.
Atlanta Braves fans understand better than anyone that their GM Alex Anthopoulos loves his very calculated and economical deals. Unlike many other franchises, the Braves’ business model is one that often tries to succeed without eclipsing the luxury tax.
That’s why it’s vitally important that the Atlanta Braves get just about every extension of their big bucks right and that the value pays off even when the playing years arrive. However, with Braves general manager Terry McGuirk claiming that he wants to achieve a top-5 payroll in 2023it’s possible that overpaying long-term contracts may be inevitable, especially considering the upcoming 2022-23 free agent pool.
With that being said, it’s important to look at some of the deals the Braves have attached to their high-profile players and determine how they could look for the club in the future.
Which Atlanta Braves players have good long-term contracts?
For whatever reason, Alex Anthopoulos has a special knack for extending players at below market value. If you were to take to Twitter to try and find out how, you’d find the wildest opinions you could think of on how he’s gotten to this point. Regardless, Anthopoulos has managed to extend these players anything from unusual to pretty good long-term value deals:
This one should come as no surprise. Ozzie Albies might just do it the the most team-friendly deal in all of baseball. He was signed to a seven-year, $35 million dollar deal in April 2019 and has produced well beyond that clip ever since. He made $5 million this season and will make $7 million through 2025 when his contract expires. He also has two $7 million in club options for 2026 and 2027.
Albies, in his full seasons, is averaging 3.9 fWAR per season and is a consistent defender with a ton of potential. Here are three other first basemen with their projected fWAR in 2023 and their average annual earnings to show how much value the Braves are getting from Albies’ contract:
- Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers (4.1 fWAR, $25 million AAV)
- DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees (2.7 fWAR, $15 million AAV)
- Jonathan Schoop, Detroit Tigers (1.3 fWAR, $7.5 million AAV)
No doubt, this particular deal is almost guaranteed to age well. Semien, a player of similar value, receives almost all of Albie’s 7-year earnings every year.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
The fact that the absolute steal that Ronald Acuña is an extension of is even being questioned after two injury-riddled seasons is ridiculous. Outside of Albies, Acuña might have the second-best contract value in baseball and is a sure bet to age well.
Acuña signed an eight-year, $100 million extension just days before Albies and will see him under contract until age 28, potentially a 30-year stretch if and when his two options for 2027 and 2028 are picked up. His contract is worth $12.5 million annually, but he will earn $17 million each season from 2023 to 2028.
It’s no secret that Acuña’s production dipped this season because he’s still rehabbing his knee from ACL reconstruction surgery in 2021. All told, if it has a lasting effect on his play, it could detract from some of the insane value that the Braves are getting out of his game. contract. If you assume Ronald comes back with a stronger and healthier knee in 2023, then his offensive and defensive offense in 2022 looks out of whack.
In Ronald’s best seasons, 2020 and 2021, he accumulated 2.4 fWAR in 1/3 of a season and 4.3 fWAR in 1/2 of a season, along with 158 and 157 wRC+. Extrapolated over a full season, this would see him around 7.2 fWAR and 8.6 fWAR, putting him in the stratosphere of $25-35 million AAV players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Mookie Betts.
Given that Ronald’s contract can cover up to four years of his free agent academic years, the Braves will save a ton of money if he returns to form.
Olson’s deal is a little less cut and dry than Albie’s and Acuña’s. His contract is much closer to market value and he is a few years older than the 28-year-old. You’ll recall that Olson signed an eight-year, $168 million extension the day after being traded to the Atlanta Braves for the start of the 2022 season.
Olson is approx. 3.9 career fWAR player and is projected to stay around that mark for the rest of his career. His peak, as we saw in 2021 with Oakland, is somewhere around 5.0 fWAR with Gold Glove defense and a 147 wRC+. Olson would have been eligible for free agency after next season, but instead will make roughly $21 million annually through 2029 and potentially $20 million in 2030.
Olson’s market value, if we’re judging by the contracts Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt received, is likely in the $24 million AAV range, meaning Olson is taking a bit of a discount to play for his hometown club. Generally, first basemen tend to to age well due to the lack of physical demands that come with the position, so Olson’s defensive value should remain well into his 30s.
That’s not to say he’s without risk — Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels in 2012 and immediately turned from an average to a poor player proves that. However, I would expect Olson to be good value down the stretch.
Which Atlanta Braves have long-term contracts with uncertain value?
Based on the raw numbers Riley has produced over the past two seasons, it’s probably fair to say that him making roughly $21 million annually with his recent 10-year, $212 million extension is a pretty good value. When put in the context of Nolan Arenado’s $31 million AAV at age 31 and Manny Machado’s $30 million AAV at age 30, this seems especially true.
However, it should be noted that perennial All-Stars Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman are doing similar to Riley with roughly $20 million in AAV on their contracts. Both players are similar to Riley in terms of fWAR and wRC+, but both contracts are also considered phenomenal value.
What keeps Riley from entering the “definitely good value” category is his defense. Riley, despite his occasional play, has been a net-negative defender. It’s possible he’ll see improvement in that regard, but given his build and skill set, he’ll almost certainly continue to decline defensively and become a DH in his senior years, making his value entirely dependent on producing $21 million in attack AAV video.
If Riley can maintain his annual 4-5 fWAR production over the next half decade, then the deal will have been well worth it.
Unlike all the other players listed so far, the Atlanta Braves inherited Igelsias’ contract from the Angels when they traded him at the 2022 trade deadline. The 32-year-old relief pitcher is set to make an average of $16 million annually until his current deal expires in 2025.
In fact, the amount of money and the length of time on Igelsias’ contract were why the Braves were able to acquire him for relatively cheap; they only had to part ways with SP Tucker Davidson and RP Jesse Chavez. This would normally indicate that Iglesias’ contract is bad, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Iglesias was amazing after being acquired by Atlanta, posting a 0.34 ERA(!!), 1.52 FIP, stranding over 91% of runners on base and giving up zero home runs in 26.1 innings. If Iglesias can replicate those numbers in any similar capacity going forward, the $16 million AAV will be well worth what he can.
Age isn’t necessarily an issue for relievers, especially those who don’t throw exceptionally hard like Iglesias. However, relief is inherently volatile; fluctuate from year to year given their sometimes inconsistent playing time and the effectiveness of their content. This makes Iglesias’ big contract, no matter how good it was in 2022, somewhat risky.
However, it should be noted that Iglesias is very consistent. He only gave up a 2.80 ERA twice in his seven-year MLB career.
Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II
The two are grouped together for a variety of reasons, but mainly because their situations and contracts are similar. Harris, who has been setting the league on fire since his May 28 debut with 4.8 fWAR, 136 wRC+, 8 DRS and 7 OAA, was rewarded with an 8-year, $72 million contract – $9 million AAV.
Strider did much of the same, becoming a full-time starter on May 30 and going to a phenomenal 2.77 ERA, 13.84 K/9, 1.92 FIP, .183 batting average, and eventually fastest pitcher in story to reach 200 strikeouts. He was rewarded with a six-year, $75 million contract, AAV of $12.5 million. It is currently the largest contract ever awarded to a rookie.
The unique nuance of these two deals is that they primarily buy out the arbitration and arbitration years of these two young stars, paying them far more than they would normally receive. Strider’s $47 million owed through the arbitration years will be the most ever earned by a competitor. Harris will see $45 million before he is a free agent.
What Strider and Harris did in 2022 was no less literally historical. It’s not often that a franchise can claim two rookies who put together top 10 seasons at their position in the same season. The problem with these deals, then, isn’t the overall value if we’re considering the raw potential of Strider and Harris.
If those two continue to improve, Harris making $14.5 million in AAV in four years without a contract and Strider making $22 million in AAV in his two free agency years under contract will be a real steal.
However, at this stage, when two are then early in his career and things – especially injuries – are unpredictable, dropping either could result in a lot of money being tied up for a long time.
Most of us will rightly not expect this to happen, but it must be borne in mind when assessing the potential risks of the deals as they continue to unwind.
Which Atlanta Braves have contracts with bad long-term value?
Thanks to the brilliance of GM Alex Anthopoulos, this chapter doesn’t have to be very long, but there is one name that deserves special mention:
After putting together a COVID-shortened 2020 campaign that positioned him as just about the best player in baseball, Ozuna was rewarded with a 4-year, $65 million contract. At the time, the risk was obvious to the then 29-year-old underdog who pitched Ozuna. However, it might be difficult to predict how much he dropped.
Ozuna has completed his drastic transformation from a 2.5 fWAR, 178 wRC+, .444 wOBA player in 60 games in 2020 to a -0.6 fWAR, 88 wRC+, .298 wOBA, -13 defensive value player in 2022. number of off the field issues like domestic violence and DUI charges, Ozuna’s numbers rank him as the bottom 30 player in the sport.
Needless to say, at $16 million each year through the end of the 2024 season, he’s a huge drain on the Atlanta Braves’ payroll, even if he can save himself a league-average player.
There aren’t many desirable ways to get rid of Ozuna, and he might even hamper the Braves’ ability to spend in free agency in a big way. It might be fair to consider this Alex Anthopoulos’ biggest contract loss of his stellar Atlanta Braves career thus far.
Fixing this issue will certainly be a hassle, and the solution may have to involve trading Ozuna for another player with a bad contract elsewhere. It will certainly be a topic to watch this offseason.
Depending on how these players’ careers progress, this list ages either pretty well or horribly, as is the case with many things in the wonderful world of sports. Regardless, Atlanta Braves fans should be confident in their GM’s ability to make deals that will put the team in a great position to win. That much has been proven.