Braves, Ronald Acuna agree to 8-year contract extension

Ronald Acuna will spend his prime with the Braves.

Amid a flurry of extensions throughout baseball, the Braves did one of their own: They finalized an eight-year, $100 million deal with their 21-year-old star Tuesday. The contract includes two club options worth $17 million each and a $10 million buyout.

The megadeal is second largest contract in franchise history, behind Freddie Freeman’s $135 million deal. The Braves held a news conference Tuesday evening, announcing the deal. Several members of Acuna’s family, including his parents, uncle, sister and three cousins, sat front row. Freeman also attended of his own accord.

“More than anything, this contract is about being where I want to be,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “I want to be in Atlanta. I want to be part of the Braves organization. I love my teammates. I love the organization. I love the fans. I love Atlanta.”

The Braves have Acuna under team control through 2028 (if they choose). Their phenom would’ve reached free agency in 2024. It provided him with security while giving the Braves an apparently team-friendly deal.

Acuna wasn’t set for arbitration until 2021. He now likely won’t reach free agency until he’s 31 years old.

“Hopefully this isn’t the last deal we do with him,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “Hopefully he ends his career with the Braves. Hopefully he goes in the Hall of Fame as a Brave.”

The deal could max out at 10 years, $124 million. It doesn’t include any award incentives, opt-outs or a no-trade clause, as per Braves policy.

“No regrets,” Acuna said. “No one can see into the future. No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m extremely happy with the decision we’ve all made.”

Acuna, 21, galvanized the Braves during his rookie season. He caught fire from the leadoff spot in the second half, reviving the offense and helping the team to 90 wins and a division title. Acuna won rookie of the year for his efforts, which included a .293 average, 26 homers and 16 steals.

Considered among the premier young talents in the game, Acuna opened last season as the consensus No. 1 overall prospect. Acuna revealed Tuesday that former general manager John Coppolella and the previous regime attempted to extend him while he was at Triple-A Gwinnett in the latter part of 2017, when his rise truly took off.

Acuna joined the team three weeks into the 2018 season and since has 165 days of service time. That makes his new deal by far the largest guarantee for a player with less than a year of time, besting Eloy Jimenez’s recent deal with the White Sox ($43 million).

The contract also is the largest Anthopoulos has distributed in his GM career, topping Russell Martin’s $82 million while he was in Toronto. The Braves waited to engage Acuna on an extension until seeing how he entered spring training coming off an award-laden few months (not that they were concerned - they’ve always had full confidence in Acuna’s focus and motivation).

“He was the same humble, respectful kid,” Anthopoulos said. “And by the end of (spring), we said ‘You know what, maybe we should take a look at this.’ ... Ronald is such a good young dynamic player, it made sense for us to do it now.

“I was around two great young players in L.A. in Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. They’re great, they’re fantastic - but for me, maybe I’m biased being here, Ronald is the best I’ve seen.”

The deal is already being viewed as a tremendous win for the Braves. The cherry on top was the two modestly priced option years.

Now they can be at peace thinking long haul with their franchise treasure. Acuna and Freeman will be the Braves’ foundation for this next era. And there will likely be more extensions to come when the time is right.

"We can build around him, Freddie and a lot of the other great young players that we have,” Anthopoulos said. “We've talked about having a core and being able to sustain it. With all this great young talent that we have, the next step is to be able to sign these guys long term.”