When the Houston Astros signed second baseman Jose Altuve to a new contract extension last week, part of the narrative was that the deal would make Altuve an “Astro for life”. That proclamation was often followed by phrases like “it’s so rare these days” or “players today just don’t do that” or “it's refreshing to this happen because it just doesn’t happen anymore”.
That got me thinking - thinking about a few things, actually - but the first thought was about the Atlanta Braves and this core of players who have been signed to an unprecedented number of contract extensions early in their careers.
The second part of that thought was who amongst this group could end up a “Brave for life”.
First, about that “Brave for life” thing.
If you are an astute reader of Battery Power, you may remember that a couple of years ago, we dropped in little historical tidbit that is relevant to this conversation. In the history of the Braves, while in Atlanta, there have been only three players to both play 10 seasons or more in MLB and do so only with the Braves.
If you extend that to the Braves franchise history going back to 1876 that number jumps all-the-way to four.
Names that don’t make those lists?
Nor does include former Braves Dale Murphy (Phillies, Rockies), Bob Horner (Cardinals), Rick Mahler (Reds, Expos), Fred Tenney (Giants), Del Crandall (Giants, Pirates, Indians), Tommy Holmes (Dodgers), Glenn Hubbard (Athletics) and Mike Lum (Reds, Cubs).
In the Atlanta-era, that “lifer list” includes Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and All-Star catchers Bruce Benedict and Biff Pocoroba.
The only other player to pull off the feat in franchise history is Sibby Sisti, an infielder for the Braves who played from the World War II-era to the mid-1950s.
The narrative that it was common for players from the past to stay with one team their entire MLB career – at least with the Braves – is a false one.
Fifteen years ago, Brian McCann looked like he could be a Brave for-life. Ten years ago, Freddie Freeman seemed to be on a path that would have made his singular jaunt with the Braves too sweet.
But McCann left Atlanta for the Yankees and Freeman ... yeah, we all know where he ended up even if we may never know the real reasons he did.
With all of that history behind us, now we ask the big question: Can anyone from this current 2024 team join this exclusive club?
Here’s a look at the candidates:
Albies is now the longest tenured Braves player and has been a multi-time All-Star. The diminutive second baseman just turned 27 and is under team control through the 2026 season thanks to one of the team-friendliest contracts since free agency began five decades ago.
Given his age and productivity it seems plausible that the Braves could tear-up the last couple of seasons of his current deal and extend him for at least three more years, but until that happens – and given all the other long-term deals the Braves are locked into it doesn’t seem to be too likely - we all may have to come to grips with the fact that we might be a few years away from seeing Albies’ helmet flying off for another squad.
Max Fried and A.J. Minter
Both pitchers are heading into their last season prior to free agency with the likelihood of them reaching free agency relatively high.
Starter Fried - who debuted one week after Albies - will be pitching this season at age 30, and although he is Atlanta’s lefty ace, it would be surprising to see Fried stick around after this year given the assumptive price tag associated with his history of success and the dearth of starting quality pitching in either league.
Minter will also pitch at age 30 this year but despite the high-leverage lefty reliever’s success, he likely wouldn’t sign a contract long enough to keep him with Atlanta for the rest of his career even if he were to be extended. The reality that he is left-handed and has been durable and effective - traits that have him on the path to be this generation’s version of fellow Texan and former Braves Mike Stanton - allowing him to pitch for another decade as a bullpen arm-for-hire.
Ronald Acuna, Jr.
Our king and reigning NL MVP, Acuna, Jr. is under team control through the 2028 season which means he’d be – checks notes – only 30 years-old when he would hit free agency.
Could the Braves try to work out another extension with the first-ever 40/70 player in MLB history and lock him up for another five years? Yes, they could. Would that mean that he’d likely earn close to $50M per season for at least a few of those years? Yep, probably so.
It’s hard to envision Acuna, Jr. staying in Atlanta for the rest of his career if an extension isn’t hammered out in the next two seasons, but you never know. Assuming health and productivity, he’s well on his way to being the greatest Braves player of this millennium regardless of where he ends his career.
Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider
These two will be linked forever thanks to their sudden success with first and second place finishes in the 2022 NL Rookie of the Year vote.
Harris II is still super-young, turning only 23 in early March, and is tied to Atlanta through the 2032 season, which makes him the player with the second-longest team control on the current Braves roster. He has the look of a future All-Star but with his youth, he’ll be likely hitting free agency with prime years left in his career.
Strider is also locked-up with Atlanta, but only through 2029. The health of pitchers is impossible to project, but if he were to stay healthy, Strider could join Rick Camp as the only Atlanta Braves pitcher to pitch for nine season and do so only with the Braves ... unless he leaves for greener pastures in 2030.
Lastly, we have Riley, the slugging third baseman who is looking to carve his own image on the mountain of great Braves third baseman with Mathews and Jones. Atlanta has control over Riley through the 2033 season which will be during Riley’s mid-30’s.
Shifting from third to first is a real possibility for Riley, given Matt Olson’s time with Atlanta could conclude after 2029 season. Assuming Riley is still powering balls out of the park with his bat, and his is contract will be up after he begins aging out of his prime years, Atlanta could opt to extend Riley to a non-bank-busting contract. If they did, then he could join Jones as hot-corner horses going pillar-to-post with Atlanta.
What do you think? Is Riley the next life-long Brave? Will the Braves extend Acuna, Jr., Albies or Fried? Will Nacho Alvarez get a cup-of-coffee with the big-club this season and then play seventeen years with Atlanta, making him a life-long Brave?
Let us know in the comments below.