In a season marred by uncertainty, injuries, inconsistency, and all around disappointment — Max Fried has emerged as a top pitcher in the majors.
Over 29 innings (five starts), Fried has only given up four earned runs while striking out 28 and has yet to surrender a home run. He’s a perfect 3-0 and his 2.34 FIP shows his performance hasn’t been flukey — he’s been dominant.
At 26-years-old, Fried is a bit of a late bloomer, but he’s been showing flashes since he came into the league, especially last season when he led the team with 17 wins. His 4.02 ERA wasn’t eye-popping, but anyone who has watched him over the last couple of years — in both the regular season and postseason — knew a breakout was right around the corner. Is an NL leading 1.24 ERA sustainable? Probably not. Is it still time for the Braves to start thinking about his long-term standing with the team? Absolutely.
Fried came over to Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade. He was coming off of Tommy John surgery, but John Coppolella took a chance on him that has paid off. The former 7th overall pick still has all three years of arbitration and won’t be a free agent until 2025, but we could see Atlanta use their strategy of “buying” those years. It worked with Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies, and getting Fried to backload a big deal could provide even more financial flexibility in these contending years while giving Fried some early security, making sure he and his family are taken care of for life. For a player with a history of arm injuries, that should be enticing. Fried will be 31 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Buying him a few years past that may prove bountiful if this is the guy he’s going to be for the rest of his career.
The Braves have seen top pitching prospect after top pitching prospect come and go throughout their rebuild, so now that they have a guy who has finally blossomed, they need to lock him in as long as they can. You can’t teach the type of stuff that Fried has — both physically and mentally. Even if regression comes, he’s the only starter giving the Braves a chance right now with Mike Soroka on the shelf.
With so many years of team control remaining, it may not be time to immediately shove him a pen and paper mid-season, but if Fried wins the NL Cy Young in 2020 (which he is VERY much on track to do), keeping him around for the long haul must be a top priority.