The Braves announced the signing of their star third baseman Austin Riley Ten-year $212MM contract extension. Riley $15MM next season, $21MM in 2024, then $22MM annually through 2032. The deal also includes a 2033 club option worth $20MM. Riley is a client of ALIGND Sports Agency.
It’s a stunning, out-of-the-blue development that has kept a franchise around for a long time. The deal buys out the 25-year-old’s final three seasons of referee eligibility and extends the club’s control window to eight years. Since Riley won’t hit free agency after his age-35 campaign, that locks him into Atlanta for the rest of his prime.
A former associate first-round pick, Riley quickly blossomed into one of the company’s top prospects. He reached the majors in 2019 after his 22nd birthday. Riley reached the majors in the first two seasons of his big league career, especially when he appeared over 36% as a rookie. However, despite the early odds, Atlanta stuck with him, and they’ve been rewarded since last year’s Riley breakout.
He appeared in 160 games, hitting 33 home runs with a .303/.367/.531 line. It marks a career high in longballs to date, but that marker won’t be his personal best for long. He’s already connected on 29 homers in 436 plate appearances this season, and he’s hitting .301/.360/.604 overall. Riley’s pure slash line hasn’t changed from 2021 to 22, but his bottom line results have improved slightly at a time when league-wide offenses have slumped. According to the wRC+ metric, Riley’s offensive output jumped from an already excellent 35 points above average to 63 points.
Among qualified hitters, only Yordan Alvarez, Aaron Judge, Paul Goldschmidt, Raphael Devers And Mike Trout Has a great wRC+ this season. That’s reinforced by batted ball measurements rather than putting relays on the game’s elite pads. His 93.7 MPH average exit velocity is more than five MPH above the league average. His 55.9% hard contact rate is one of the league’s best, as is his 17.6% barrel rate. Simply put, few batters hit the ball as hard as Riley often does.
Of course, Riley’s power is never really questioned. The problem earlier in his career was making contact, but the Mississippi native has made great strides in that regard. After making contact on just 63% of swings as a freshman, Riley has had the at-bat 73% of the time in each of the past three seasons. That’s not ideal, but it’s good enough for a player for his power output. Riley still has an aggressive approach and gets out of the strike zone a fair amount, but his best batted ball results are always a slightly below average walk rate.
Going into the start of 2021, Riley owns a .302/.364/.560 slash in 1100 plate appearances. He looks like a bona fide slugger, and the Braves are certainly happy to have him in the middle of the lineup for the next decade. Riley earned a Silver Slugger Award and finished seventh in last year’s NL MVP voting, and this season he earned his first of what the club envisions will be several All-Star awards.
The Braves are now 75% assured of their infield for the long haul. Atlanta signed Matt Olson An eight-year, $168MM deal came within days of the Athletics signing him in spring training. They were before Ozzy Albies Signed affordably until 2025 (with club options for 2026 and ’27). That leaves that Dansby Swanson Atlanta is not under contract as a lone member of the infield for the foreseeable future, as the shortstop will hit free agency later this year.
Also available in Atlanta Ronald Acuna Jr Under contract for most of the decade, they were given a young core to build around. In the assessment of Jason Martinez Catalog resource, the club’s 2023 payroll rises to about $113MM (not including salaries for arbitration-eligible players). They will be $87MM in 2024 and $60MM to $70MM for the next two years. Atlanta’s 2022 salary, according to Cote’s baseball contracts, is a Copyright-registration $177.7MM This should give them some flexibility to re-sign or move Swanson, especially with key contributors like Michael Harris II, Kyle Wright, Spencer Strider And Ian Anderson Arbitration may not be reached until at least 2024. It’s a strong long-term position for president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos and his staff to build on last year’s World Series title and build a long-term juggernaut.
As ESPN’s Buster Olney points out (Twitter link), Riley’s extension goes down as the largest investment in Atlanta franchise history. It’s the second-biggest extension for a player with two to three years of MLB service, behind only shortstop Fernando Tadis Jr A 14-year, $340MM megadeal. Of the other players in that service bucket, only future Hall of Famers Mike Trout And Buster Posey Signed contracts that topped nine figures. It’s a strong gesture of confidence on the part of the organization, but it also carries the potential for bargaining. Riley’s flat $22MM salary over seven free agent seasons would be a very team-friendly figure, given that players of his caliber often approach or top $30MM annually on free agent contracts.
Such is the nature of early career extensions. Riley sacrifices some long-term revenue upside for upfront guaranteed money, and will receive slightly more in 2023 than if he had continued through arbitration. Riley reached arbitration for the first time as a Super Two player last winter and earned a $3.95MM salary. An MVP-caliber showing would have earned him a significant raise next winter, but next year’s salary certainly wouldn’t have approached $15MM. By paying a little more upfront, the brave give themselves more long-term flexibility.
While it’s not an outside pick-up, Riley’s extension is likely to go down as the biggest move of the Braves’ deadline season. They’ve committed to another star young player to bolster a long-term core that should be consistent contenders in the NL East for years to come.
Image courtesy of USA TODAY Sports.
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