Braves: Friday gave us another reason to appreciate last year’s Acuna/Albies extensions

dfu19033041 braves at phillies

The flurry of moves to end the week — regarding the deadline for teams to exchange salaries for arbitration-eligible players, in which most players and teams agreed upon — created enough chaos that it’s understandable if you missed the real takeaway from Friday.

Sure, six of the seven arbitration-eligible Braves settled their 2020 salaries  (reliever Shane Greene did not, meaning a hearing will take place in February), leaving the Braves with a mostly unexciting day. But if you love your Braves, the team’s lack of big-name settlements on Friday certainly doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be excited about. In fact, Friday should’ve served as quite a reminder of how ecstatic we should all be.

Let’s play a game: which salary would you rather pay, $27 million, or $17 million? This isn’t a trick question, by the way, but you, of course, would rather pay the latter figure, right? Now, what about $27 million or $7 million? Once again, the latter.

If you paid attention to Friday’s news, you’d know that Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts broke the record for highest arbitration salary, receiving a whopping $27 million to continue playing MVP-level baseball in 2020 — an annual wage that as you know is killing Boston’s payroll flexibility, along with other not-so-smart ventures executed by previous front office regimes (but flags fly forever, right?).

Now you might be asking: what does this have to do with us?… this is supposed to be a Braves site! Well, Betts’ big payday (which still isn’t close to what he’ll make in free agency in 2021) might not necessarily concern the Atlanta Braves, but it certainly is cause for appreciation. 

If you recall — and I brought this up earlier this week in my piece regarding contract extension candidates — last April, the Braves executed two monumental deals with two very important young players, locking up outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and second baseman Ozzie Albies for the foreseeable future. 

Acuna’s deal reached $100 million, a large sum for sure, but it’s a contract that is guaranteed to extend to at least 2026 (his age-28 season) and also includes two club-option years for a couple more seasons, potentially keeping the talented outfielder in Atlanta until at least 2028; that’s ten total years (counting the 2019 season). Without that extension, Acuna would’ve entered his first year of arbitration by the 2022 season (thanks to some manipulation by the Braves in 2018), and by 2024 could’ve easily been tagged with a $25 million+ salary, much like Betts (though I’m almost certain inflation perhaps raises that figure by several million dollars). Instead, the Braves are on the hook for a much more reasonable $17 million for the ’24 season (which, like Betts now, would’ve been Acuna’s final year of ARB) as well as the 2025-26 seasons, an absolute steal for two of his free-agent years. Consider Acuna’s contract layout:

  • Year 1 (2019): $1 million
  • Year 2 (2020): $1 million
  • Year 3 (2021): $5 million
  • Year 4 (2022): $15 million
  • Year 5 (2023): $17 million
  • Year 6 (2024): $17 million
  • Year 7 (2025): $17 million
  • Year 8 (2026): $17 million
  • Year 9 (2027): $17 million
  • Year 10 (2028): $17 million

(club options / both include $10 million buyouts)

 

Albies, whose extension is also long term, though, not quite as substantial, comes at even more of a bargain for the Braves. The 23-year-old second baseman (then-22) is locked up for a mere $35 million, guaranteeing his presence at the keystone until at least the 2025 season (his age-28 season) and the 2027 campaign if his two option-years are activated. If no extension, Albies would’ve been in the same boat as Betts in 2023, going into his last arbitration season and most likely looking to receive a very comparable salary. However, according to the contract, Albies signed last April, the Braves only owe him $7 million for that ’23 season, as well as the season after, which of course, is when he would’ve hit the market as one of the elite second basemen in the majors.

Nice, huh? Check out Albies’ layout as well:

  • Year 1 (2019): $1 million
  • Year 2 (2020): $1 million
  • Year 3 (2021): $3 million
  • Year 4 (2022): $5 million
  • Year 5 (2023): $7 million
  • Year 6 (2024): $7 million
  • Year 7 (2025): $7 million
  • Year 8 (2026): $7 million
  • Year 9 (2027): $7 million

(club options / both include $4 million buyouts)

 

These two contracts allow the Braves to maintain a strong competitive window, but just as important, these team-friendly extensions give the organization plenty of payroll flexibility to spend money elsewhere. Flexibility is something the Boston Red Sox can’t obtain, not with an outfielder earning nearly $30 million while he’s still under team control.

The Braves are currently operating at around a $130 million payroll, a number that will inevitably increase before Opening Day, especially if the team can ink third baseman, Josh Donaldson. Although, even if Donaldson can push the Braves to the max and pocket… say… $120 million and four years (a number a bit too high, in my opinion), your still only talking about $170 million for the 2020 season (assuming a consistent AAV of $30MM). Yes, that’s a payroll the Braves have never even come close to running, but it’s still almost $40 million below the luxury-tax threshold ($208 million). Even more, consider what’s on the docket for the Braves, in terms of its current payroll for future seasons (players signed thus far in parenthesis):

  • 2021 — (19)  — $70.5 million
  • 2022 — (13) — $42 million
  • 2023 — (9) — $37 million
  • 2024 — (5) — $24 million

 

Meanwhile, in New England, the Red Sox currently sit at $219.358 million for their 2020 payroll, as all offseason rumors have swirled regarding the team’s desire to somehow get under the threshold. So far, it’s not looking good for the 2018 World Series champs. There are not many teams willing to play with the Red Sox, especially when playing with them means taking on the dead-weight contract of David Price or even bringing in the extraordinarily talented Betts, who costs just as much as a top-tier free agent and would only be a one-year rental. For comparison, here’s what the future looks like for Boston (again, signed players in parenthesis):

  • 2021 — (20) — $132.9 million
  • 2022 — (14) — $115 million
  • 2023 — (8) — $37.5 million
  • 2024 — (6) — $37.5 million

 

As you can see above, over the next two seasons (2021-22), the Braves and Red Sox are almost identical in terms of the number of players signed. Also noticeable is just how much the Braves are set up for the future, currently on the hook for roughly $135 million less than the Red Sox over the next two seasons. Those Acuna/Albies extensions are looking mighty fine, aren’t they?

Of course, you could make the obvious argument when looking at all of this, that the Red Sox are currently in a different stratosphere when it comes to its market. There’s no doubt that over the years, the Braves have operated as a small to the mid-market franchise and the BoSox a much larger one. And as early as 2018, we witnessed just how well Boston’s big-spending worked for them, playing a magical regular season, followed by an awesome run in the playoffs that was capped off with a World Championship over the LA Dodgers.

But the fact remains: longterm the Red Sox are currently caught between a rock and a hard place, and the Braves are most definitely not. And after watching everything unfold on Friday, I think we should all look to those two April extensions last year as one of the primary reasons why.

 

 

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