With Spencer Strider out, Braves need to extend Max Fried more than ever

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Spencer Strider going down with a torn UCL really threw a wrench in the Braves’ plans, not just for this year but moving forward as well.

Outside of Strider, there isn’t another proven starting pitcher committed to Atlanta long-term, and now his future is cloudy. Opting to go the internal brace surgery over Tommy John provides a glimmer of hope that he can be ready at some point before the All-Star break next year, but the Braves can’t go into the season expecting him to return at full strength right away. There has to be insurance, and a lot of it, because the rest of the rotation might not be around.

This very well may be Charlie Morton‘s last season. In fact, I would say the odds that it is are close to 80-90%, but I’ve been surprised before. Reynaldo Lopez has looked nice in his first two starts, but he hasn’t been a full-time starting pitcher since 2019. Who knows how sustainable that success is over a full season, and of course, Max Fried is set to become a free agent at the season’s end.

The Fried contract situation is a storyline that will be discussed all season and into the offseason if it’s not taken care of, and there are a few new developments that have shifted that conversation over the last month or so.

On the one hand, Fried just watched two of the best left-handed starting pitchers — Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery — settle for well below market value and sign one-year deals. That’s not an encouraging sign for a pitcher hoping to land something around $200 million next offseason.

Beyond that, I’m beginning to wonder if we will see a change in the starting pitching market moving forward due to all of the pitching injuries. They can happen at any time out of thin air, making a good contract turn into an albatross, one that teams will regret for the entire duration. It wouldn’t surprise me if pitchers start to get treated like running backs in free agency, where, outside of the best of the best, teams stop paying them top dollar, severely diminishing their market value.

Fried is one of the elite pitchers in the game. An argument could be made that he is the best left-handed starting pitcher on the planet when healthy; however, health has been a concern over his career. He’s only pitched north of 166 innings one time since being introduced as a full-time starter for the Braves back in 2019. With durability being such a concern these days, that’s not going to help his case in negotiations.

With that being said, Spencer Strider being out for at least the next 12 months puts Fried in a very advantageous position with the Braves. This will be a team searching desperately for starting pitching next offseason. Because outside of Chris Sale, there’s really not a single person they can rely on going into 2025, and Sale’s injury history doesn’t necessarily make him a guarantee either.

It’s a pretty disastrous spot to be in. If Fried walks, the Braves will likely be without three of their top four starters from this year at the start of next season. Alex Anthopoulos is never one to hit the panic button, and he will not be bullied in negotiations, but one would think Spencer Strider’s injury definitely puts some added pressure on him to try and work out an extension with Max Fried.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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