Monday could, and likely will, be a day fondly remembered in Braves history. Ronald Acuna put pen to paper, committing his prime seasons to the franchise at a well-below market rate.
If Acuna becomes the player many expect he’ll be, it could be one of the great team-friendly deals in baseball history. The Braves locked in their 21-year-old star to an eight-year extension that includes two option years, each valued at $17 million, that could make the total deal 10 years, $124 million.
That’s a lot of dough for Acuna, who’s now set for life. But it was well below his expected value, especially in his age 25-30 seasons, typically an athlete’s best performance years. He could’ve hit free agency in 2024.
The deal secured Acuna as a franchise cornerstone. Their moves for the next decade will be an attempt to build a team around Acuna.
“It’s good for him, good for us, good for the Braves,” manager Brian Snitker said. “What an opportunity for the organization, for Ronald and his family. That’s just something that, as a young player, you’re coming up and playing little league and all that, now he’s doing something beyond his imagination.
“I talked to him (Tuesday), he’s excited. You’re never going to diminish the energy, enthusiasm and zest he plays the game with. He’s just an infectious kid to watch out there. How he plays the game, the fun he has, the energy with which he plays, the talent, the whole package.”
Indeed, Acuna’s as well rounded as they come. The second half of his rookie season will forever be etched in franchise history. Acuna moved to leadoff, hitting .322 with 19 home runs, 54 runs scored and a .403 on-base percentage in 68 games. He sparked the Braves’ offense, helping them win 90 games and the division title.
When the Braves held their news conference Monday, only one other player was present: Freddie Freeman. The face of the franchise, Freeman wanted to show support for Acuna and the organization.
“I wanted to be there because that’s a big deal for the Atlanta Braves,” he said. “One of the best players I’ve seen, and he’s only been in the big leagues less than a year. Even last year, I don’t think we saw what he’s going to be. He’s going to be one of the greats to play this game. I don’t say that lightly. He’s an incredible player.”
Freeman and Acuna should get used to each other. While Freeman’s contract expires after 2021, he’s made it clear he intends to spend his career in Atlanta. In that case, the rest of his baseball life will be spent sharing a clubhouse with Acuna.
“Ronald is the perfect person for an extension like this,” Freeman said. “He cares about baseball. He’s an even better person. We have so much fun together in this clubhouse. He means so much to everyone in this clubhouse. If someone is going to get $100-plus million dollars, it should be him. He’s going to do everything he can to live up to that contract.”