Atlanta Braves have tied up Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies for a combined 19 years and $169 million. Albies’ extension was announced on Thursday on what appears, by MLB standards, to be an incredibly team-friendly deal.
The pair of young stars are best friends, and Atlanta have secured two future multiple-time All-Stars for what could be exceptional value.
Albies spoke of Acuna’s impact on his decision to sign the contract, “We’re more than best friends, we’re brothers. I love him. It wasn’t just because of him, because I love everybody on the team. And I love being where I’m at, being part of the Braves. I want to be a Brave for the rest of my life.”
Albies was the 11th-best prospect per MLB Pipeline before the 2017 season. He was an All-Star in 2018, and his struggles in the second half of the season are only a very minor concern.
Acuna was second on MLB Pipeline’s pre-2018 list. He was ranked first by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. The five-tool left fielder won Rookie of the Year in 2018 and finished 12th in National League MVP voting.
Both players have MVP potential. It is not ridiculous to tip Acuna for the award this season after he posted a .917 OPS in 2018. They would be a perfect starting point for a franchise, but they are not alone in Atlanta.
Freddie Freeman is under control until after the 2021 season. There are few National League hitters better than Freeman. Johan Camargo isn’t a free agent until 2024 and hopes of a Dansby Swanson breakout remain high.
Ender Inciarte is an elite defensive centre fielder with solid on-base skills – he’s under team control until after 2022.
Then there’s the farm. Atlanta have eight top 100 prospects according to Pipeline, and several other highly rated guys beyond that. Austin Riley is the third-best third base prospect in the game and will slot in at the hot corner at some point in 2019 or 2020 (when Josh Donaldson’s money comes off the books).
The catalogue of pitchers, led by Mike Soroka and Kyle Wright, are breaking their way into the Major Leagues. There is a certain amount of luck in pitcher development. Injuries can derail progress, and that’s an obvious concern, but Atlanta have so many high-end arms, that there will at least several who are above-average Major Leaguers.
The depth of prospects gives room for several big trades. Or, and this winter’s moves suggest this will be the path they take, it leaves margin for error. Not every prospect will be a hit like Albies and Acuna, but Atlanta have the depth of talent to compensate for the injuries and plateaus.
These extensions are part of a trend. Players are taking guaranteed money after two ice-cold free agent winters. Teams are doing the sensible thing and locking up their core players.
Albies and Acuna seemed inevitable extensions, but the relative cheapness is the surprise, and yet further strengthens the Braves’ position. Atlanta have cost certainty and have saved money here that could be spent elsewhere, whether in future free agency or taking money on through trades.
It remains to be seen how Atlanta fare in the ultra-competitive National League East in 2019. Their future into the 2020s is brighter than any other team in Major League Baseball, though.