Today marks the one-year anniversary of a deal that looks like it’ll pay dividends for years to come. On April 11, 2019, the Braves and second baseman Ozzie Albies agreed on an extension that could keep the dynamic switch-hitter in Atlanta through 2027.
Albies, who was under team control through 2023 prior to the deal, received a $1MM salary in 2019. He’ll match that this season, take home $3MM in 2021, $5MM in 2022, and $7MM apiece from 2023-25. The Braves hold a pair of $7MM club options (the first with a $4MM buyout) for the 2026 and 2027 seasons. All told, the deal guaranteed Albies just $35MM with a maximum payout of $45MM over nine seasons.
Even at the time, those were shockingly low numbers for a player of Albies’ promise. The former top prospect had compiled a .272/.323/.456 line (107 wRC+) through his first 977 MLB plate appearances. Combined with strong baserunning and keystone defense, Albies had amassed upwards of five wins above replacement before his 22nd birthday.
As MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote at the time, the deal looked exceptionally lopsided in the club’s favor:
“Frankly, this seems like the type of deal that an agent would strongly advise his client not to take. Perhaps Albies simply wanted to take the largest guarantee the Braves were willing to offer; he received just a $350K signing bonus as a prospect, after all, and his career earnings to date may not even total seven figures. From a purely human standpoint, it’s hard for any 22-year-old player without much in the way of career earnings to rebuff $35MM under the guise that he’ll earn more on a year-to-year basis beginning 24 months down the line. Presumably, all of the points made here were spelled out to Albies before he made what amounts to a life-altering decision.”
While the deal already looked like a coup for the club, Albies took his game to another level in 2019. He played in 160 games and hit .295/.352/.500 (117 wRC+) with an NL-best 189 hits. That was enough to earn him the Silver Slugger among NL second baseman. There could’ve also been an argument for him to win a Gold Glove (although Kolten Wong was no doubt a deserving winner). Albies racked up eleven defensive runs saved in 2019, bringing him to 28 runs above-average for his career by that metric. All told, he was worth about five wins above replacement, per both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.
That marked a welcome step forward from Albies’ previous level of production at the plate. But it was hardly out-of-the-blue. He’d long shown the talent to be a plus hitter with strong contributions as a baserunner and defender. He faded offensively down the stretch in 2018, but it was reasonable to project further growth with reps against MLB pitching and physical maturation.
For the Braves, the Albies extension (as well as the one signed by Ronald Acuña, Jr.) looks like a slam dunk. It’s hard to give the Alex Anthopoulos-led front office too much credit; every team in baseball presumably would’ve signed up for the same deal if given the opportunity, even after Albies’ late-2018 swoon. This wasn’t a front office taking a gamble on an unknown, unheralded player they loved. The consensus was Albies was a high-level talent. Indeed, as Steve explored at the time, a $50MM guarantee would have been more in line with deals signed by comparable players in the 1+ service class, including Christian Yelich and Andrelton Simmons. Some commentators (including Jon Tayler, then at Sports Illustrated, and Michael Baumann of the Ringer) even questioned the team’s ethics in offering the deal.
Albies, of course, was well within his right to value the upfront multi-million dollar guarantee. He hasn’t expressed any public regret since. Yet the extension arguably looks even more team-friendly now than it did at the time. Not only did Albies post a career year in 2019, last offseason’s free agent market was much stronger than the previous two. Whether the abnormally quiet markets of 2017-18 and 2018-19 impacted Albies’ decision isn’t clear, but they no doubt played a role in the high volume of spring 2019 extensions signed leaguewide. (Admittedly, it’s unclear precisely how future markets will respond to lost revenue related to the coronavirus-forced hiatus).
Albies figures to be penciled into Atlanta’s lineup at minimal rates for the next eight years. It’s plausible to project even more offense as he enters his mid-20’s, particularly if he can rein in his plate discipline a bit. Even if he’s already reached his peak, he’d be among MLB’s biggest bargains. He and Acuña should comprise one of the game’s most formidable one-two punches for a good chunk of the next decade.