Braves lock up Ozzie Albies with what could be another massive value contract

Ozzie Albies' contract extension comes just over a week after his friend Ronald Acuña Jr. inked an eight-year, $100 million deal.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — For the second time in a week, the Atlanta Braves locked up a young piece of its core, this time assuring Ozzie Albies could be in place for up to nine years.

“I’m happy to be here,” the second baseman said during Thursday’s press conference to announce his seven-year, $35 million extension. “I feel like I’m home here and that’s why I chose this contract.”

The deal, which includes two option years, could be worth up to $45 million, keeping the Curacao native in a Braves uniform through the 2028 season.

Albies’ contract comes a little more than a week after the team handed the player he calls his “brother,” Ronald Acuña Jr. an eight-year $100 million deal (which, with two option years could reach 10 years and $124 million).

While the verdict is still out on who Albies is at the plate, there’s reason to believe this contract could turn into an unequivocal steal.

Hitting .364/.429/.500 through 11 games this year with three doubles and a pair of RBI, Albies put together a 2018 season with extreme splits.

Earning his first All-Star nod after slashing .281/.318/.516 — punctuated by a 158 wRC+ in April — he would go on to hit 33 percent below league average in the second half.

He went from 20 home runs to four, and hit .200 in the postseason, and on the year, the switch-hitter had an 84 wRC+ vs. righties to go with a 141 against right-handed pitching.

“That was definitely a long part of the discussion was as a club, should we just wait, because we love the person and the player,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. “But the second half last year … He was still Ozzie and working hard everyday and doing everything he can, but it’s not that easy.”

Despite that second-half slide, Albies was still a 3.8 fWAR player with a 1.2 defensive WAR (11th among second basemen) with 14 steals.

“There wasn’t a rush to do this,” Anthopoulos said. “If it made sense we would explore it, if not, five, six years, it’s a long time to have a player. Things can change fast. I think it made sense for us and we weren’t going to let it drag on all that long.”

To put his new deal into context, Albies’ $5 million average annual value is 16th among current second base contracts, just ahead of the Orioles’ Jonathan Villar ($4.825 million and a 2.0 fWAR last year), and behind the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong ($5.1 million with a 2.8 fWAR).

The overall value of the deal is eighth at the position and $14.5 million less than the Rangers signed Rougned Odor, who has never had an fWAR higher than Albies in any of his six MLB seasons.

Anthopoulos said in order to come up with the parameters of the deal, they looked at recent contracts signed in the second-base market, with the likes of the Diamondbacks’ Eduardo Escobar (three years at $21 million), the Nationals’ Brian Dozier ($9 million for one year), the Brewers’ Mike Moustakas ($10 for one season with an option), the Mets’ Jed Lowrie (two years at $20 million) and the Twins’ Jonathan Schoop ($7.5 million for one season).

But the difference between all of those players is all of them are are at least 30, while Albies is just 22.

“From that standpoint, we still looked at current free-agent deals,” Anthopoulos said. “… If he outperforms it and he plays well and down the road we come to him and extend him for a much larger deal because he’ll have those years of great performance behind him.”

If Albies finds a consistent approach akin to his first half of last season — and in a small sample size he’s hitting righties (.344/.432/.438) well, while still hammering left-handed arms (.417/.417/.667) — the Braves will have a star at a bargain.

If he’s somewhat in the middle of last year’s stellar first half and second-half woes at the plate, he remains an elite defender with power potential.

“I don’t know that anyone, especially with the way the year went last year, we don’t know exactly what offense player we’re going to have,” Anthopoulos said. “We know what the talent is and we know what the upside is.”

Regardless, this is financial reality of the future Anthopoulos and Co. have painted with the deals for Albies and Acuña: the can have a combined 19 years at $169 million.

That’s just a little over half of what the division rivals Phillies spent for 13 years of Bryce Harper.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.