ATLANTA — It isn’t the proverbial start of the season for the Atlanta Braves, but more than one player said that the annual “BravesFest” gathering at Truist Park signaled that a new campaign was on hand. For Max Fried, it could be a big one: his future beyond the 2024 season is uncertain. The Braves avoided arbitration with Fried earlier this offseason on a one-year, $15 million deal. As of yet, he has not received a long-term extension like many of his teammates, and seems likely to hit free agency after the conclusion of the 2024 World Series.
Fried understands that his contract situation is going to be a storyline as the Braves prepare to report to Spring Training, but he is focusing on only the things that he can control.
“I feel like a lot of that is, I would say, out of my control right now. The Braves do things a certain way. I know that privacy and having that just be more behind closed doors is the way things are done. I respect that,” Fried answered when asked about his lack of a long-term deal. “I know that I love being here. I’m really excited to get started with this group. We brought on a lot of really talented people. We have guys from last year that are still here. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to last year, but I know that we have a really determined group. I’m really excited to get started.”
“I’ve spent the majority of my career with the Braves,” Fried added. “I spent a couple years with the Padres, and I got traded over with Tommy John at 20 years old, and looking back on it, it’s about 10 years now. This is really all I know. The organization has been nothing but supportive to me. The fans and the city [have] really embraced me, and I really love my time here.”
If you are familiar with Fried, you know that he chooses his word carefully during interviews. He doesn’t have the reputation that his teammate Spencer Strider does for being stoic, but Fried rarely shows too much emotion.
“I don’t think it’s something he’s thinking about,” Spencer Strider said when asked how he thought Fried would handle the uncertainty. “I think that he loves Atlanta and being in this clubhouse. For him, nothing’s really changing. He’s showing up the same way he has the last however many years. Same house, same group. So no, I think that’s not something that he’s focused on directly at all. I think his goals are the same as the rest of ours, and that’s go out, perform, win, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Austin Riley is one of Fried’s oldest teammates, having played together through a couple of stops in the minors. Riley echoed Strider in saying that Fried is more than prepared to handle the noise as he enters his walk season.
“He’s obviously very smart and intelligent. I think his purpose [for] which he plays the game is for the love of the game,” Riley said of Fried. “He’s very passionate about it. I don’t know if I know anybody that does more homework between each start than him. For that reason alone, I think he’ll be able to handle the talks [about] free agency and all that stuff. He’s a level-headed guy that is wanting to win ball games. I think that alone will tend to take care of itself.”
Fried’s teammates think that the situation will take care of itself and it will, one way or another. While the Braves have spent plenty of resources locking up most of their core, they’ve thrived despite key departures. Fried is the latest big name to enter his walk year without an extension, joining Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson. Still, Fried is doing the best he can to tune out the noise and focus on the present and the task at hand.
“It’s a lot about living in the clichés of staying the moment, all that kind of stuff,” Fried said. “For me, this is what I’ve loved to do since I’ve been three years old. I was running around little baseball fields watching my older brother play. I’ve been throwing the ball since I can remember. I’m the most authentic, genuine self when I’m out on the mound and I’m playing and I’m with my teammates. For me, I love nothing more than going out there and competing. Baseball is my outlet to do that. I’ve really just tried to simplify it as much as I love playing, I love baseball, I love competing. If I just focus on those things, then everything else will take care of itself.”
On the field, Fried is hoping to reestablish himself after an injury-plagued 2023 season that saw him make just 14 starts. Fried suffered a hamstring injury on Opening Day in Washington which landed him on the 15-day Injured List. He returned to the shelf in early May with a forearm strain, which caused him to miss three months. He returned in August, but then developed a finger blister in late September that sent him back to the IL to finish the season. He returned for a start in the Division Series against the Phillies, but would be the first to admit that he wasn’t at his best.
If Fried reaches free agency, he will be one of the biggest names on the market. He and his teammates may be focused on getting the Braves back to a World Series, but putting together a big season in his walk year could set him up for a nice payday next winter, especially given that his 2023 lacked the bulk that contributes to huge pitching contracts.
“I pride myself on being able to take the ball and win ballgames. It killed me last year to be sitting here in Atlanta when the team’s on the road, watching them on the television like everyone else,” Fried said. “There’s nothing better than competing and taking that ball every fifth day. I want to be able to do that every single time my turn comes around. We’re working really hard this offseason. I’m really itching to get to go into the spring. I just want to get started, get back out on the mound, and get this thing rolling.”
Fried that he spent the offseason trying to get himself ready physically. A forearm injury is always a scary proposition for a pitcher, but he looked strong after returning in August, and there’s never really been a concern about the quality of his pitching. The blister issue is something that he has dealt with throughout his time as a professional, but added that Atlanta’s training staff does a good job of keeping that under control. All in all, he said that he feels as strong heading into 2024 as he has at any point in his career.
“I think mostly just getting my body in shape and being healthy. I think I’m the healthiest that I’ve been,” Fried said. “I’ve had some health issues at the end of years. Outside of just a little bit of a blister and skin issue, I’m really as sturdy and solid as I’ve been as long as I can remember. Coming into this year, I’m just really excited and happy. The blister stuff is just staying on top of the treatments and all that kind of stuff that George and those guys in the training room have for me. After not having the year and not being available as much as I want to, I’m excited to be able to come into this year and wipe that slate clean and have a new year and be healthy and just be myself.”
Fried has been a part of all six of Atlanta’s consecutive NL East titles. He tossed six scoreless innings in the Game 6 clincher of the 2021 World Series. There have been plenty of big moments along the way. He has seen a lot through his time in Atlanta. If this is it, he is looking to go out on top with the group of players that have been like a family to him.
“When I got traded over, there was a vision. That was to really value winning and have a really good quality group of people to be able to do that,” Fried said. “Coming up and still being able to play with a lot of the guys that I played with in A-ball in 2016, some guys that were drafted around them. It’s really special to be able to share with them and also be able to still be around. It doesn’t happen a lot because there’s a lot of turnover and there’s a lot of player movement, teams, and stuff like that. To be able to have this group and have a really solid core, I’m thankful. I’ve got great support from those teammates, new teammates, family, everyone. You make the most of it and it brings the best out of you, too.”