When it’s NBA season, the stars come out. Especially in Atlanta, where the constant vibration of sports, entertainment and culture make Atlanta Hawks basketball a must-see attraction in the city. It’s not uncommon to see celebrities and All-Stars from every sport lining the seats of State Farm Arena to catch Trae Young and the boys hit the hardwood.
On Thursday night, the 8-3 Atlanta Hawks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers (104-95) and there was a Money Michael Harris II sighting in celebrity row. Bally Sports caught up with the Atlanta Braves’ phenom, who was in Double AA when the 2021 season started and is now one of MLB’s superstars and a torch bearer for the resurgence of Black baseball excellence.
“I never expected to be courtside and trading jerseys with an Atlanta Hawks player. To be able to do that is unreal,” Harris told a Bally Sports reporter.
The 21-year-old rookie hit The Bigs by storm and was a catalyst in helping the Braves catch the New York Mets in the National League East and eventually win the division. Harris flexed his five tools and exhibited a veteran’s poise in his 114 games of work, posting an offensive stat line of .297/.339/.853, 19 home runs, 64 RBI, 20 stolen bases, 135 OPS+, 8 DRS, 5.3 WAR.
“It was a pretty quick season, everything happened so fast. From being called up to the contract,” said Harris, who signed an 8-year/$72 million deal, just three months after he touched ground in Atlanta. I just really know that it’s a blessing.”
For his efforts, Money Mike is one of three finalists for the National League Rookie of the Year award, along with his teammate, pitcher Spencer Strider (31 games, 20 starts, 131.2 IP, 11-5, 2.67 ERA, 202 SO, 45 BB, 153 ERA+, 3.7 WAR) and St, Louis Cardinals Utility Man, Brendan Donovan.
It’s really a two-man race between Harris and Strider, who are good friends.
“We joked about it all season,” Harris said. “I feel like we both know we…will finish first and second in the Rookie of the Year voting, so I’m rooting for him and he’s rooting for me and we’re just waiting to see.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers continue to be the best team in baseball and look like a lock for the number one seed. Dave Roberts’ squad has been dominant offensively, and as of Wednesday morning their +294 run differential was easily the best in the league.
The Dodgers have done damage in every way imaginable, but their ability to rack up extra base hits has been the deadliest part of this offense. They currently rank 4th in home runs, 2nd doubles and 3rd in triples, numbers good enough to lead the league in slugging as a squad. Mookie Betts has been a huge part of the power surge in LA, slugging .772 with six home runs and 12 RBI over his last 15 games.
The NL West may be in the bag for the Dodgers, but there is a battle brewing atop the NL East. The New York Mets have once again been walked down by the Atlanta Braves and their young batch of MLBbros.
Atlanta has been able to score runs in bunches all season, and that is primarily due to their ability to collect timely hits. The Braves are hitting .283 with runners in scoring position this season with 30 home runs, 3rd most in the league.
Rookie Michael Harris II has continued to show the league why he’s considered a centerpiece of this core. Harris collected Rookie of the Month honors in August after slashing .337/.400/.589 with four homers and continuing to play one of the best centerfields in baseball. HIs fellow rook Vaughn Grissom may be challenging for the award this month, as he is currently slashing .375/.444/.583 over his last 7 games.
The Braves surge has one again put the pressure on Taijuan Walker and the Mets, and with ace Max Scherzer landing on the IL again the battle just got tougher. New York has lost three straight headed into action Wednesday and are just 5-5 over their last 10.
Walker’s secondary pitches have continued to dazzle, but his last 7 starts have been shaky (2-2 with a 6.60 ERA over 30.0 innings pitched). The Mets bats haven’t gone cold at the worst possible time, and after taking two of three from LA have proceeded to get outscored by the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Mets need to hold on to the division, because the loser of the NL East will be not only forced into the 4 seed, should they survive the Wild Card round they would be staring down the Dodgers.
The St. Louis Cardinals currently have a solid lead on Devin Williams and the Milwaukee Brewers, so barring a collapse by the Cards it may in their best interest to focus on catching Josh Bell and the San Diego Padres.
Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been adamant about making long term commitments to pieces that he feels are critical to the Braves future, and our young MLBbro Michael Harris II was the latest to reap the benefits.
In a move that surprised many (Harris is still under his rookie deal), Harris signed an eight-year extension worth $72 million, with a two-year club option that could push the deal to 10-years, $102 million. Harris has shined since he was called up, and the Braves clearly wanted to send a message that he is indeed a part of their core.
Alex Anthopoulos continues to lock down Braves to long-term deals:
Harris is hitting .287 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI, while being a perfect 13-for-13 on stolen bases. Not only has Harris performed at the plate, but he has been one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game since the day he stepped foot in The Bigs.
There is always skepticism whenever players sign what appear to be team friendly deals, but the Braves have developed a formula that both rewards young players while positioning the franchise to win for years to come.
The deal signed by Harris is the third highest guarantee in MLB history for a player with less than one full year of service time. The second? Fellow Braves outfielder Ronnie Acuna Jr.’s eight-year, $100 million deal.
The deal is a win for both parties involved, mainly because it avoids two pre-arbitration years and four years of arbitration for a player who is clearly outpacing his current deal. When you look at the current situation with Aaron Judge and the Yankees, this is a win for all parties involved. Rewarding a young player at this point shows him how invested you are in them going forward.
The Braves have invested in one of the best young cores in baseball, locking up outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr, second baseman Ozzie Albies, first baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Austin Riley and now Harris all until at least 2025. With such a diverse core, Atlanta now has positioned itself to be extremely aggressive this offseason.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson, another home-grown prospect, is a free agent this offseason and will be a hot commodity. Do the Braves resign Dansby or go shopping in a loaded free agent market that includes Platinum Glove winner Carlos Correa?
If they don’t want to spend on Correa, they have another young MLBbro in Vaughn Grissom who has also shown he’s ready for the show. Grissom has played second base with the absence of Albies, but his presence provides even more flexibility for the Braves.
The options seem to be endless for Atlanta but seeing Money Mike manning centerfield is a lock for the foreseeable future.