As Braves work to add to starting rotation, Max Fried approaches his walk year

Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) delivers to the Phillies during the first inning of NLDS Game 2 in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023.   (Hyosub Shin /



Braves starting pitcher Max Fried (54) delivers to the Phillies during the first inning of NLDS Game 2 in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. (Hyosub Shin /

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As the Braves work their way through the starting pitching market, they also will be on the clock soon with their own ace.

Max Fried is entering his walk year.

According to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Braves and Fried’s camp had discussions about a potential extension before the 2023 season. The sides had a back-and-forth dialogue and exchanged numbers, but those conversations eventually reached an impasse. That is believed to be the last time the Braves and Fried talked about an extension.

With the 2024 season approaching, it is fair to wonder whether Fried – like Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson before him – will depart Atlanta and leave Braves fans grieving the loss of another star.

How, if at all, would Fried’s contractual status affect the Braves’ offseason plans this winter?

“We’re always aware of where everyone’s at in their contractual status, contractual control,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday at the winter meetings in Nashville. “We have him 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. Look, we have him. We’re worried about 2024 right now. We always have an eye on ‘25, but the focus for us is ‘24.”

If you follow the Braves closely, you know this: Anthopoulos’ policy is not to comment on topics like free agency or contract discussions. This is nothing new. But, as he said, he often has heaped praise and admiration on Fried, who was instrumental in helping bring a World Series to Atlanta in 2021. Fried is one of the reasons the Braves have become a juggernaut, and Anthopoulos always has lauded his ace when given an opportunity.

It’s too soon to make any official declaration, but Fried might be approaching his final season in a Braves uniform. He’s a year away from free agency, and he likely would receive a large contract if he were to hit the open market. The Braves might have to consider this when trying to add to their starting rotation this winter.

Next winter’s free-agent class could be full of talent: Gerrit Cole, who has an opt-out after the 2024 season. Corbin Burnes. Zack Wheeler. Tyler Glasnow. And more. (This, of course, assumes that no one signs an extension between now and then.) But Fried, if he stays healthy and continues on his current trajectory, could be right at the top of the starting pitching market.

The Braves’ willingness to engage Fried about a potential contract extension is encouraging because it shows their desire for him to continue playing for them. At the very least, the club has interest in keeping Fried around.

Another positive sign: Before Aaron Nola re-signed with the Phillies, the Braves pursued him. The details of their offer aren’t known, but a person with knowledge of the matter said the Braves were one of Nola’s finalists. This means the team was willing to pay for a starting pitcher.

In fairness to the Braves, who made an effort within their comfort level to keep Freeman and Swanson, they have continued to win, despite losing those two, and have thus far proved themselves to be correct in how they’ve charted their path forward. No team can pay everyone, and the Braves are aiming for sustained success.

So could they eventually spend to keep Fried?

At this point, it’s impossible to know how this might turn out.

Freeman, a Braves icon, left. Swanson, a hometown kid, departed as well. Both wanted to stay, but received better offers elsewhere.

And Fried might eventually command a larger contract than the other two, in terms of average annual value.

Fried, who would be 30 years old by the time he reaches free agency, has a 3.05 ERA over 710 career innings. In recent years, he’s cemented himself among the game’s aces: Since the start of 2020, Fried’s 2.66 ERA ranks second among qualifying starters. Fried has above-average strikeout and chase rates, but neither are elite. Still, he has prevented runs as well as anyone in baseball.

Then there’s this: Free-agent starting pitching comes at a high price. Contending teams value it.

Which is why the Braves have looked into adding starting pitching – in free agency and the trade market – this offseason. In addition to their interest in Nola, the Braves have looked into potential trades.

Of his roster, Anthopoulos on Tuesday said: “Our outfield is set, and we’ve been consistent with that. Our infield is set. Our rotation has room. Our bullpen is set – we still have a spot we could do something with.”

As he often does, Anthopoulos made this much clear: He won’t force a deal. The Braves wanted Aaron Bummer – going all the way back to this summer’s trade deadline. They targeted Jarred Kelenic. Anthopoulos always says the Braves’ moves are player-specific.

The Braves know Fried very well. He’s their ace. They really like him. Who wouldn’t want him on their team?

The Braves also have paid to extend their players, but those situations aren’t direct comparisons to Fried. The most similar case might be that of Matt Olson, who had two years of control remaining when the Braves extended him. But Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider and Sean Murphy were further away from free agency. So were Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

But the Braves have shown interest in giving Fried an extension. Perhaps those talks would resume, and accelerate, at another point.

As the Braves address their starting rotation this offseason, there’s a looming reality: The coming season could be Fried’s final one in Atlanta.