Ronald Acuña Jr. Thinks He's Got a 50-50 Season in Him

Because, by baseball’s current economic standards, Acuña is comically underpaid. The going rate for a player of his caliber is in the neighborhood of $40 million a year. But in 2019, fresh off winning Rookie of the Year, Acuña signed an eight-year, $100 million deal that provided immense financial security at a discounted rate for the Braves.

And while Acuña’s previously said he doesn’t regret signing it—$100 million is, duh, an absurd amount of money—he knows his talent is worth exponentially more.

“I believed it was going to better my situation,” Acuña says of the contract. “Everybody was going to be better, my family, I was going to be more stable. I definitely thought it was a great moment. But I believe this is the time to get a new contract and be a Brave for life.”

Compared to the deals baseball’s best have signed in recent offseasons, Acuña makes peanuts. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge inked a massive 9-year, $360 million deal after the 2022 season while the astronomical 10-year, $700 million deal Shohei Ohtani signed with the Dodgers this past December made him the highest paid athlete in the world. (Of course, he’s a perennial Cy Young-contending pitcher when healthy.) Imagine what baseball’s premier leadoff hitter could command on the open market.

“I’m already thinking about it,” says Acuña. “I’m just going to keep pushing and working hard to get that contract that is much deserved.”

While oddsmakers installed him as the favorite to repeat as N.L. MVP, expecting Acuña to surpass last season’s numbers—he led baseball in runs, hits, total bases, on-base percentage, and stolen bases—is, of course, unfair. But as long as he stays off the injured list and continues to see pitches setting the table in Atlanta’s stacked lineup, a 50-50 season is totally reasonable. The sport’s recent rules changes clearly help Acuña swipe enough bags. Bumping his home run total to 50 would be a foreboding task for just about anyone but Acuña, who has yet to find a baseball-related obstacle he can’t hurdle.

Back in his hotel suite, decked out in a tux 99 percent of ballplayers would never dare to wear, Acuña is ready to head downstairs and collect his hardware after taking pictures like it’s prom. Proudly showing off his pricey “MVP” piece, you can’t knock the smile off his face. If there are any nerves about the speech he has to give later, nobody can tell. Reflecting on the journey from the streets of Venezuela to superstar status, Acuña will deliver his words with a few poignant pauses while the chain dazzles—a beautifully blinged-out reminder of a year unlike any other. And should he pull off the unprecedented for a second straight season, you already know how he’s celebrating.

“I’d have to make another one,” Acuña says with a grin.

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