For the second time in nine days, the Braves moved to ensure that one of their dynamic young players will remain with the team for many years to come.
Following up on last week’s signing of outfielder Ronald Acuna to an eight-year contract worth a guaranteed $100 million, the Braves on Thursday agreed to terms with second baseman Ozzie Albies on a seven-year deal worth $35 million.
Albies’ and Acuna’s contracts, both of which could prove to be extremely team-friendly if the players remain healthy, also include two additional years each at the Braves’ option. If the Braves exercise both option years in both contracts, they can keep Albies through 2027 and Acuna through 2028.
Immediate reaction around the baseball industry was that Albies, 22, may have left considerable money on the table with the deal, which can delay his eligibility for free agency until after his age-30 season. On the other hand, the deal provides Albies financial security even if he sustains a career-altering injury or performs below current projections.
“I see it this way: If I left dollars on the table, I know I’m going to keep playing hard … and get it later,” Albies said. “… I took (the contract) because I want my family to be safe.”
Under the contract, Albies will be paid $1 million this season and again next year, $3 million for 2021, $5 million for 2022 and $7 million per year for 2023, 2024 and 2025. The Braves have options to keep him for $7 million each in 2026 and 2027. If the 2026 option is declined, he is guaranteed a $4 million buyout. There is no buyout for the 2027 option.
If both options are exercised, the contract will pay Albies $45 million over nine years.
The Braves opened contract discussions with Albies’ representatives almost immediately after completing Acuna’s extension April 2. The deal came together quickly.
“I said, ‘OK, I’m going to see what they offer me,’” Albies said. “I was excited, yes.
“I like it here. I love it here. It feels (like) home,” said Albies, who is from Curacao.
The Braves had leverage because, even before the deal, Albies was five years away from free agency. But the team potentially bought out four free-agent seasons at below-market rates, including the two option years.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know that he’s going to work hard, he’s going to care about the team, and he’s going to do everything he can to be the best player he can be,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “To guarantee those dollars five years out (from free agency), that’s obviously a trade-off.”
Albies, a National League all-star last year, is off to a strong start this season, hitting .364 (16-for-44) through 11 games. He finished last season with a .261 batting average (.231 as a left-handed batter, .333 right-handed), 24 home runs, 40 doubles and 72 RBI. He had a .281 average with 20 homers, 29 doubles and 55 RBI before the All-Star break, but hit only .226 with four homers, 11 doubles and 17 RBI after the break.
By signing Albies and Acuna to long-term deals, the Braves have demonstrated their intention to keep their promising nucleus together.
“To lock both of them up between seven and 10 years, it’s pretty special,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “Our fan base took to them right away, and you see all those Albies and Acuna jerseys out there. To know that they’re going to be here for a long, long time, it’s good for fans to know that.”
With the Acuna and Albies deals done, Anthopoulos was noncommittal about when the next contract extension might be worked out with another player.
“We don’t have a list that we’re going through right now, but ultimately the goal is to reinvest in the current team,” Anthopoulos said. “We really feel strongly about the talent on this team. We want to keep the guys together as a group.
“Hopefully they all continue to play well, and we’ll be able to get a few more of these deals done.”
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.