Why the St. Louis Cardinals must acquire Max Fried if he's available

Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game One
Division Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves - Game One / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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The Braves are going to be facing some tough decisions with their payroll

In a recent breakdown on Yahoo Sports, Atlanta was ranked the 10th most valuable franchise in baseball, but had the fourth highest revenue in the sport in 2022. For context, St. Louis was the 7th most valuable franchise but had the 14th highest revenue in 2022.

Atlanta has been one of the best run organizations in baseball over the last half-decade, developing homegrown talent into very productive major leaguers and signing their young stars to team friendly extensions. What is notable about the club though has been their lack of willingness to bring back players that are set to hit free agency, most notably Freddie Freeman and most likely Dansby Swanson.

Even though the Braves have a ton of their young talent under team friendly deals, long-term extensions like those begin to add up when you have as many on books as they do. The club currently has five extensions over the $72 million mark, a potential Sean Murphy extensions coming, and that is on top of a few highly paid veteran pieces like Marcell Ozuna and Raisel Iglesias. If Fried is unwilling to take a bit of a below market rate, he is likely gone after the 2024 season.

Sure, the Braves could hold onto Fried for two more postseason runs, and let him walk for a competitive balance pick like they did Freeman and Swanson. But with how much value they could extract from Fried in a trade, as well as the pitching depth they already have, it is at least worth exploring a trade if Fried is not signing an extension.

We'll get more into the package it would take later, but the Braves already signed Spencer Strider to a long-term extension this past season, setting him up to be the club's ace for years to come. Among their current rotation optios, the club would have Stride, Charlie Morton, Kyle Wright, Bryce Elder, Mike Soroka, and Ian Anderson among other arms that they could turn to if they let go off Fried.

It is obvious that trading away a Cy Young caliber pitcher makes your roster worse, but taking a bit of a step back in that regard and replenishing their roster with multiple high upside youngsters could be worth it for the Braves brass.

If the Braves do go this route, here is the kind of starter the Cardinals would be acquiring in that trade.

Max Fried is the ace the Cardinals desperately need

After a pretty average first full season in the big leagues during 2019, the Atlanta southpaw went 7-0 in 11 starts with a 2.25 ERA in the 2020 pandemic season, finsishing 5th in Cy Young voting. He had a good but not great 2021 season, but then really broke out in 2022 after going 14-7 with a 2.48 ERA while finishing 2nd in Cy Young voting.

The three time Gold Glove winner has proven he can match up with the best pitchers in the game night in and night out, and has remained durable while doing so. He has pitched at least 165 innings in his three full big league seasons, and does so with strikeout stuff as well.

For the Cardinals, Fried would slot right in at the top of their rotation, and be able to fill that avoid for at least the 2023 and 2024 seasons. Currently, the Cardinals only have one starter, Steven Matz, under contract after the 2023 season, so this move kills two birds with one stone.

Fried also represents possiblity the very best option that could be available over the next two seasons. Fried does not have durablity concerns like a lot of the top end starters that St. Louis could acquire, and he also won't require a massive contract until the 2024 off-season. Yes, the prospect capital will be pricey, but the Cardinals have shown willingness to make aggresive trade offers this off-season.

Let's look at some potential trade packages that the Cardinals could offer for Fried.