In case you have been under a rock today, or don’t regularly look at your cell phone like I do; the Braves signed Ronald Acuña to a massive $100 million, eight-year extension. Well, at least on the surface it looks like an enormous deal. In reality, it is one of the rare ten-year commitments in baseball that appears significantly one-sided in favor of the organization.
Mega-deals are being handed out like candy to the league’s crop of young superstar talents. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper both broke the 300 million dollar mark in free agency this year. Then Mike Trout slaughtered the $400 million plateau, by inking an extension worth $450 million. It’s unknown whether Acuña will be able to continue to put up similar numbers to Trout, Machado, and Harper, but at a fraction of the price, he doesn’t have to.
That’s not to say that he won’t. My own opinion: he will be more productive than both Harper and Machado. It’s difficult to say anyone will be as successful as Mike Trout, but there may be a moment down the road where Trout passes the title of “The Best Player in Baseball” on to the Braves’ new poster boy.
Everyone around the Braves’ organization raves about Ronald Acuña. From the players to the coaches to the front office – there isn’t a soul that has been around him that does not recognize the type of elite potential he possesses. The Braves newest member, or oldest depending on how you want to look at it, Brian McCann, says it best:
“He’s next-level. His bat speed is unmatched. He can do everything on the baseball field, and he’s only going to get better. What he did last year was just the tip of the iceberg.”
The legend of Ronald Acuña began before last year in the minor leagues. Not a highly touted international prospect; it only took a couple of years for him to become the MLB’s top prospect before the 2018 season. The contact bat was always there, but it was his development of power in 2017 that had Braves’ fans anxiously awaiting his arrival.
The Braves finally decided to call him up on April 25th of last year, and immediately, his skills in every aspect of the game were on display. Hands and feet do not move any faster than his.
His hands give him the power to launch balls in the stratosphere but also the ability to sit back and wait on offspeed pitches, knowing he can catch up to anybody’s fastball. His feet allow him to beat out a weakly hit ground ball to the shortstop, turn a single into a double, steal 30+ bases, and cover the entire outfield. Acuña never looked like he didn’t belong, and in due time, the results followed.
I’ve said these stats probably 1,000 times and never get tired of it. Following a scary injury that sidelined him a month, Acuña slashed .322/.403/.625 with a 1.028 OPS in the season’s second half. Typically, when seeing those type of slash numbers, it’s a ten game sample size. This is 68 games – almost half of a full season, and over half of the games Acuña played in. There was nothing flukey about it. Every time he stepped up to the plate; there was a feeling that the game was going to change, and most of the time it did.
So why would Acuña settle for such a minuscule contract compared to the likes of Machado and Harper? The simple answer is security. As jaw-dropping as Acuña was as a rookie, it was an extremely tiny sample size. With this deal, he becomes the youngest player in MLB history to sign a contract for $100M+. Baseball has their fair share of one-hit wonders, and there was no rush for the Braves to get a deal done. Acuña still had two years of team control remaining followed by three years of arbitration. Now, no matter what happens, he’s financially taken care of for the rest of his life.
A more heartwarming answer would be that he genuinely enjoys Atlanta and the organization. We will likely never know what went on behind closed doors, but Acuña didn’t appear to have any interest in attempting to become baseball’s first half-a-billion dollar man. He was content committing the next ten years to the organization that brought him up, as long as they were willing to give financial security for him and his family.
Kudos to Alex Anthopoulos for getting this done in not only a timely manner but a financially flexible manner. Braves’ fans love those two words, don’t they? This contract could have easily been $150 million, and nobody would have batted an eye. Now that their most critical cornerstone is locked down at an affordable rate for the foreseeable future, the Braves can be more active in free agency in the coming years, and possibly even this year.