HomeMLB RumorsRonald Acuna Jr. Suffers Torn ACL, Will Miss Rest Of 2024 Season

Ronald Acuna Jr. Suffers Torn ACL, Will Miss Rest Of 2024 Season

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Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. suffered a fully torn left ACL during today’s game, as the Braves announced following an MRI examination tonight.  Acuna will undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the 2024 season.

Acuna was taking a lead off second base during the first inning of today’s 8-1 Atlanta win over the Pirates when he faked a possible steal attempt with a move towards third base.  However, Acuna’s left leg twisted under him and he fell to the ground in obvious pain.  Speaking with reporters after the game, Acuna said that he didn’t feel a pop in his knee and expressed hope that might perhaps miss just a month of action if his knee was only strained, but unfortunately the MRI has revealed the worst-case scenario for the star outfielder.

This is the major knee surgery of Acuna’s career, as he previously tore his right ACL on July 10, 2021.  He was able to return to action quicker than expected and was back in the Braves lineup by the end of April 2022, though it didn’t seem like he was quite back in full form, as Acuna batted a relatively underwhelming .266/.351/.413 over 533 plate appearances that season.

With a full and normal offseason of prep and recovery over the winter of 2022-23, Acuna bounced back with not just his best season, but one of the best all-around seasons in the history of the sport.  Acuna was a unanimous choice as NL MVP after hitting .337/.416/.596 with 41 homers and 73 stolen bases (in 87 attempts).  This made Acuna the first player to ever have a 40-50 season, let alone establishing the 40-60 and 40-70 clubs to boot.

That type of season would’ve been a tough act to follow for anyone, but Acuna was hitting only .246/.348/356 over 221 PA heading into what ended up as his final game of the 2024 campaign.  Acuna’s barrel rates were still above average but well below his career norms, and both his home run total (four) and his overall power numbers sharply dropped.  He also reverted back to his pre-2023 free-swinging ways, after he was one of baseball’s toughest hitters to strike out last season.

We’ll now never know if Acuna could’ve shaken off this slow start, as he is facing yet another brutally long absence from the Braves lineup.  Since Acuna suffered a complete tear in his ACL, his recovery figures to be on the longer side of the usual 7-10 month timeframe for such surgeries.  This would still put him in line to return by Opening Day 2025, though it seems quite possible Acuna and the Braves might explore a longer rehab this time given that it is Acuna’s second ACL tear, and because his previous relatively quick return in 2022 seemed to result in nagging knee soreness and his comparatively lackluster numbers.

More will be known about Acuna’s recovery timeline in the coming weeks and months, but the bottom line is that the news is devastating on all fronts for Acuna, the Braves, and for MLB itself in losing a signature star.  Acuna still doesn’t turn 27 until December, and yet while he has plenty of time to continue building on what seems like a Cooperstown-worthy career, it is anyone’s guess if he’ll be able to again recapture his old form after ACL surgeries on both knees.

The Braves overcame Acuna’s previous ACL injury to launch an unlikely run to the 2021 World Series crown.  Atlanta chose to double down on its attempt to stay in the playoff race by adding four outfielders (Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, and Adam Duvall) prior to the trade deadline, and the entire quartet stepped up to help carry the team in the remainder of the regular season and during the postseason.  Soler even won World Series MVP honors and Rosario was the NLCS MVP, cementing Alex Anthopoulos’ bold decision to reload rather than not give up on the season in the wake of losing Acuna.

With this in mind, it is impossible to say that Acuna’s latest injury will doom Atlanta’s chances in 2024, even if president of baseball operations Anthopoulos now faces another tricky path to building a championship team.  Though the Braves are six games behind the Phillies for the NL East lead, Atlanta’s 30-20 record gives them a comfortable five-game edge for the top NL wild card berth, and it certainly looks like a return to the postseason in the cards.  This is despite middling seasons from most of the Braves’ lineup (save Marcell Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud), Sean Murphy missing almost the entire season with an oblique strain, and staff ace Spencer Strider undergoing a season-ending surgery of his own with an internal brace procedure.

Since the Braves still went for it in 2021 despite a sub-.500 record at the start of August, they will obviously still be all-in on a title now given their team-record payroll and one of baseball’s most enviable collections of long-term talent.  Jarred Kelenic and Adam Duvall have been splitting time in left field so either could shift over to right field for the time being, or Atlanta might just stick with the left field platoon and look to find another full-time replacement on the trade market.  Making an early strike in a trade could be costly for Anthopoulos, yet he might look to replicate 2021 by adding multiple outfielders in somewhat lower-tier deals.

If the Braves really wanted to get the band back together, Rosario (now with the Nationals) figures to be available as a deadline rental and Pederson might be the same if the Diamondbacks can’t get back into contention.  In terms of internal help, Atlanta’s tendency to rarely rest its starters means that Acuna, Kelenic, Duvall, Michael Harris II, and (with one inning in right field) Forrest Wall are the only players who have gotten any work in the Braves outfield all season.  Wall, J.P. Martinez, and Luke Williams are all at Triple-A and on the 40-man roster, plus Eli White and Skye Bolt are among a few other Triple-A outfield options with Major League experience.  Newly-acquired utilityman Zack Short has also gotten some time in the corner outfield during his career and figures to be part of this mix as well.

While there will be no shortage of trade speculation surrounding the Braves heading into the July 30 deadline, the obvious fact is that there is no way to truly replace Acuna, his 2024 struggles notwithstanding.  Losing Acuna for the season puts even more pressure on Atlanta’s other bats to get on track, and on the club’s pitching staff to continue its solid work.  The Braves’ attempt at a seventh consecutive division title is already in jeopardy thanks to the Phillies’ hot start, and without Acuna, it will be much more difficult for the Braves to navigate their way back to the World Series.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

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