It’s midnight when Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos drives home from Truist Park and reflects on what is happening these days with a baseball franchise that has become America’s Team again, at least in the deep South, without the aid of a SuperStation.
The Braves just knocked off the New York Mets for the second consecutive night 5-0 to pull within 3 ½ games of first place, with Mets’ co-aces Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom on deck.
The big news of the day wasn't Atlanta’s victory in front of another frenzied crowd of 37,449, but the signing of rookie center field sensation Michael Harris II to an eight-year, $72 million contract with two club option years.
Anthopoulos, the reigning MLB executive of the year, worked his magic once again, leaving his fellow peers envious , and veteran agents seething.
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This is the third player Atlanta has signed to a long-term extension in the past five months, totaling $452 million: first baseman Matt Olson (eight years, $168 million), third baseman Austin Riley (10 years, $212 million) and now Harris.
Several agents insist that Harris’ deal, which was announced by the team, is club-friendly and could save Atlanta more than $200 million, perhaps as much as $250 million — and Riley’s contract about $150 million, but who knows?
There’s no crystal ball that guarantees Harris, an Atlanta native, will become the next superstar. He has played only 70 games in the major leagues. There are no assurances of staying healthy, avoiding a sophomore jinx, or simply not performing the way his career began.
Wasn’t Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery supposed to be a star, too, when he signed a six-year, $24 million contract extension before his first season started? He’s playing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley these days.
Washington Nationals center fielder Victor Robles was supposed to be a perennial All-Star after he finished sixth in the NL rookie of the year balloting in 2019, hitting 17 homers with 65 RBI and a .745 OPS. He since has hit only nine homers with 62 RBI and a .607 OPS.
The landscape is filled with players who are supposed to be stars and fall short, with plenty of others who had opportunities to sign long-term deals, but turned them down.
Harris, 21, the youngest player in the major leagues, is the leading candidate to win the NL Rookie of the Year despite being called up in late May. He is hitting .287 with 12 homers and 13 stolen bases.
If he wanted to wait, he could have gone year-to-year and taken his chances.
Instead, when Atlanta said it was interested in a long-term contract, which includes two option years that could make the deal worth $102 million, he advised his agents to start negotiating. Harris will have a press conference at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday with his family, friends and teammates by his side, likely echoing the sentiments of Riley just 15 days ago.
“I couldn’t be more happy to be here,” Riley said at his press conference. “We’ve got a really good group here, good core, and I think we have a lot of championships in our future.
“The organization has been just phenomenal to me from the start. And to be drafted by them and for them to put faith in me, I think that meant the most to me.”
The narrative of the Harris signing shouldn’t be whether Atlanta got another team-friendly deal, or why he passed on the opportunity of striking it rich in free agency in five years, but why Atlanta has suddenly become a utopia for so many players.
If you want to maximize your value and make every last dollar, Atlanta isn’t the place for you.
But if you want to come to a franchise that has four consecutive division titles and a 2021 World Series, play in a fan-friendly environment in a one-newspaper town, with teammates that are also your closest friends, this is your place.
Why do you think Ozzie Albies signed a seven-year, $35 million contract and Ronald Acua signed an eight-year, $100 million deal in 2019?
Why do you think Dodgers All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman broke down in tears in his return to Atlanta because he never wanted to leave?
Why do you think that shortstop Dansby Swanson hopes to sign before he hits free agency in November, with Atlanta sharing the same sentiments?
Guys love playing in Atlanta. The Braves have increased the payroll to $185 million, they draw the fifth-largest attendance in baseball, and the Battery Area surrounding the ballpark has become one of the great entertainment districts.
It’s like having a modern-day version of Chipper Jones and Dale Murphy around. There’s a connection between the city and the players.
Do you want to stay in a place you love playing, where you and your family are comfortable, or do you want to go somewhere new but get every last penny?
Harris is now the latest to make his choice.
He’s joining the crowd.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Harris II signs early extension with Braves, who do it again