Braves ace Max Fried focused on baseball and not his contract situation

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried prepares to watch  NLDS Game 3 in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.   (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Max Fried prepares to watch NLDS Game 3 in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

In an answer to a question about how he stays focused during situations that could distract others – such as his coming contract year – Max Fried started by saying it is about living the clichés, like staying in the moment.

He eventually finished by emphasizing his love for the game. I love playing, I love baseball, I love competing. If he focuses on those things, he said, then everything else will take care of itself.

“For me, this is what I’ve loved to do since I was 3 years old,” Fried said. “I was running around little baseball fields watching my older brother play. I’ve been throwing the ball since I can remember. I’m the most authentic, genuine self when I’m out on the mound and I’m playing, and I’m with my teammates. For me, I love nothing more than going out there and competing, and baseball is my outlet to do that.”

On Saturday, Fried attended Braves Fest at Truist Park. He engaged with fans.

He might not be at next year’s Braves Fest.

If the Braves don’t extend Fried’s contract, the left-handed ace will become a free agent after the 2024 season. And in December, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that, at the time, the Braves and Fried had last discussed a contract extension before the 2023 season. Talks eventually fizzled.

Asked Saturday about his situation, Fried said:

“I feel like a lot of that is, I would say – it’s out of my control right now. But the Braves do things a certain way, and I know that privacy and having that just kind of be more behind closed doors is the way things are done, so I’m gonna respect that. But I know that I love being here, and I’m really excited to get started with this group. We brought in a lot of really, really talented people. We have guys from last year that are still here. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to last year, but I know that we have a really determined group, and I’m really excited to get started.”

The Padres drafted Fried in the first round in 2012. They traded him to the Braves in 2014.

It’s been almost 10 years.

“This is really all I know,” Fried said of playing for the Braves. “The organization has been nothing but supportive to me. Fans and the city have really embraced me, and I’ve really loved my time here.”

There’s no doubt Fried enjoys playing for the Braves. But that doesn’t mean he’ll sign a long-term extension now or in free agency. If he turns in a good 2024 campaign, he’ll have earned the right to make clubs meet his price.

But first, the season.

Fried has worked on keeping his body in shape after making only 14 starts last season because of hamstring and forearm injuries, then a blister.

“After not being available as much as I want to, I’m excited to kind of be able to come into this year and kind of wipe that slate clean and have a new year and be healthy, and just be myself,” Fried said.

Good news on that front: Fried said he feels “as sturdy and solid as I’ve been in as long as I can remember.” The Braves hope this means he stays healthy because when he’s on the bump, he’s one of the best starters in baseball.

Why will Fried handle his contract year, and the fluidity in his situation, so well?

“I don’t think it’s something he’s thinking about,” Spencer Strider said. “I think that he loves Atlanta and being in this clubhouse. For him, nothing’s really changing. He’s showing up the same way he has the last however many years. Same house, same group. I think that that’s not something that he’s focused on directly at all. I think his goals are the same as the rest of ours, and that’s go out, perform, win and the rest will take care of itself.”

Added Austin Riley: “I think he’s obviously very smart and intelligent. I think his purpose of which he plays the game is for the love of the game, and he’s very passionate about it. I don’t know if I know anybody that does more homework between each start than him. For that reason alone, I think he’ll be able to handle the talks behind the free agency and all that stuff. I think he’s a level-headed guy that is wanting to win ballgames, and I think that alone will take care of itself.”

Two and a half weeks from now, Fried will report to North Port, Florida, with the Braves’ pitchers and catchers. It could mark his final spring with the Braves, but he isn’t focused on that.

“I’m already getting that itch,” Fried said Saturday of baseball returning. “For me, it’s time. I’m ready to get going. I didn’t play enough baseball last year.”

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