Braves Lock Up Another Core Bat With 10-Year Extension for Austin Riley

Austin Riley
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If you ever wondered how committed the Braves were to Austin Riley, they expressed their feelings clearly on Monday, agreeing with him on a 10-year, $212 million contract that will keep him in the lineup through at least the end of the 2032 season. After 2021’s breakout campaign, Riley has proceeded to break out once more, hitting .301/.360/.604 for 4.6 WAR in 101 games, that slugging percentage being enough to lead all National League hitters. The Braves also get an option season for 2033.

As a prospect, Riley was at risk, at times, of falling into the tweener gap, that dreaded place where a player doesn’t field well enough to handle third base in the majors but also doesn’t have the bat to be a good starter at first. His runner-runner breakouts have eliminated the chances of that scenario; he’s adequate enough defensively to stick at the hot corner for now, and his bat is more than capable enough to keep him a plus at first or designated hitter.

Like most of the rest of the team, Riley got off to a relatively slow start this season; at one point in late May, his line stood at an unimpressive .224/.309/.436. But from that May 22 nadir, he’s wreaked havoc on pitching staffs around the league, putting up a monster .350/.395/.713 line with 21 homers in 61 games:

Offensive Leaders, Last 30 Days
Name G PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Austin Riley 25 106 10 .420 .453 .870 262 2.4
Matt Carpenter 23 85 9 .356 .447 .822 253 1.7
Aaron Judge 25 112 13 .333 .446 .806 247 2.4
Freddie Freeman 25 109 6 .394 .450 .691 211 1.8
Juan Soto 23 95 6 .314 .495 .614 204 1.2
Alec Bohm 20 81 3 .434 .457 .632 201 1.2
Starling Marte 18 79 4 .384 .430 .616 200 1.1
Matt Chapman 24 96 9 .325 .396 .699 199 1.6
Corey Seager 22 95 8 .333 .411 .679 198 1.6
Jose Miranda 19 71 5 .354 .408 .615 192 0.9
J.T. Realmuto 19 78 5 .358 .423 .642 190 1.4
DJ LeMahieu 25 117 4 .344 .462 .490 179 1.6
Kris Bryant 21 91 5 .346 .418 .630 178 0.9
Yandy Diaz 24 105 2 .333 .419 .522 175 1.1
Leody Taveras 25 90 2 .354 .400 .549 170 1.3
Anthony Santander 23 99 5 .330 .384 .571 170 0.9
Gavin Lux 25 89 2 .320 .416 .533 167 1.1
Ramon Urias 22 79 5 .329 .380 .575 167 1.0
Francisco Lindor 24 108 5 .320 .389 .546 166 1.5
Jose Abreu 26 111 3 .350 .405 .520 164 1.1

Over the last 30 days, nobody’s been more of an offensive force than Riley, and he’s a primary reason that the Mets feel a lot less comfortable in the NL East than they did a few months ago. He’s put himself into the thick of the NL MVP race, and if you believe the ZiPS projections, his onslaught against the league’s hurlers isn’t stopping any time soon:

2022 ZiPS Projection – Austin Riley
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .286 .351 .554 587 88 168 33 2 40 106 52 170 1 131 -4 4.7
2024 .284 .352 .562 566 86 161 33 2 40 105 52 168 1 133 -4 4.6
2025 .282 .350 .559 556 85 157 33 2 39 103 51 165 1 132 -5 4.3
2026 .283 .350 .561 540 82 153 32 2 38 99 50 156 1 133 -6 4.1
2027 .286 .352 .558 525 79 150 31 2 36 96 48 145 1 133 -6 3.9
2028 .283 .348 .543 506 74 143 29 2 33 89 45 137 1 128 -7 3.3
2029 .279 .343 .529 484 68 135 27 2 30 83 42 128 1 123 -8 2.7
2030 .275 .338 .505 461 62 127 24 2 26 74 38 117 1 116 -10 2.0
2031 .271 .332 .478 435 55 118 22 1 22 65 34 105 1 108 -11 1.3
2032 .265 .321 .447 407 48 108 18 1 18 56 29 91 1 98 -12 0.5

ZiPS projects that if Riley hit free agency this winter, he’d merit a 10-year, $258 million contract, though he wasn’t going to get quite that much as a consequence of not making it to the open market until after the 2025 season. The computer projects arbitration year salaries of $9.2 million, $15.5 million, and $21.3 million, giving an overall estimate of $202 million over 10 years. In other words, my projections consider this a very reasonable contract, one in which Riley is selling his free agent years to Atlanta at a fair price. If the defensive projections turn out correct, he may need to move off of third base toward the end of his time in Atlanta, but it’s way too soon to start fretting about the exact configuration of 2030’s lineup.

That Atlanta would agree to this deal after very team-friendly contracts to Ronald Acuña Jr. (eight years, $100 million) and especially Ozzie Albies (seven years, $35 million) demonstrates how much Riley means to the franchise. In terms of rest-of-career WAR, ZiPS now ranks him as the top third baseman in baseball, his recent offensive outburst being just enough to force José Ramírez out of the top spot.

Extending Riley also means that the Braves’ infield is locked up for the rest of the decade, with just one exception in free agent-to-be Dansby Swanson. The Braves are in a quite comfortable payroll situation, though, meaning that even a big extension for Riley doesn’t automatically preclude them from closing a smaller one for Swanson. Our updated measurements for Atlanta’s future payroll have a luxury tax number under $130 million already baked in, and that’s after including Riley’s cash. Swanson is the team’s only key free agent — we can fight about Kenley Jansen if you have the notion to — and Max Fried’s first year of arbitration isn’t going to increase the payroll by an enormous amount. Even without going through the luxury tax threshold, Atlanta’s existing team-friendly contracts result in the franchise having the flexibility to re-sign Swanson with enough breathing room to add an outfielder, an innings-consuming starter, and a reliever or two in the offseason. It’s a good thing for the Mets that Steve Cohen appears much more inclined to drop serious wads of cash than the Wilpons ever did.

Braves history has been blessed with some amazing third basemen, from Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Chipper Jones to other very good players like Darrell Evans and Bob Elliott. In Riley, the 2020s Braves have a third baseman who can stand among that group without looking out of place.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

17 Comments
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sbf21member
14 days ago

Yeah. I wonder how Albies and Acuna feel about this particular deal?

cowdisciplemember
14 days ago
Reply to  sbf21

You have to appreciate that the Braves are putting the surplus value from those deals back into the team instead of pocketing it. This looks like another excellent deal.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
14 days ago
Reply to  sbf21

In theory it should be irrelevant to them or even beneficial that the team will be better. In reality regrets might rear their ugly heads

TKDCmember
14 days ago
Reply to  sbf21

Well, I don’t think they are stupid. I don’t think they had never heard about what other players had ever signed for, particularly players closer to free agency. My guess is they are happy the team will mostly likely continue to be good. What are they supposed to feel?

cowdisciplemember
13 days ago
Reply to  TKDC

I guess it depends. Albies might be thinking about suing his agent. If the Braves told them they couldn’t offer any more because the team was broke, they could understandably be pissed about it.

They probably are just happy to be on a team that will be really good for the next five years, though.

kylerkelton
13 days ago
Reply to  sbf21

One reason players sign early deals like Albies and Acuna did is for security. Yes, they could’ve got more money. But Acuna has had lots of injuries, some requiring him to miss significant time. There’s something to be said for taking your 100 mil to give you peace of mind.

Last edited 13 days ago by kylerkelton
Anon21
13 days ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

You keep referring to multiple Acuña injuries, but he’s really only had one of any significance (although obviously it’s been of great significance).

rc1013
13 days ago
Reply to  Anon21

He also missed significant time as a prospect in 2016. I forget exactly what the injury was but it was hand/finger/wrist related.

jmbarton13
13 days ago
Reply to  rc1013

Albies also missed a fair bit of time in the minors with either a dislocated or broken elbow (I forget which). It’s not like their was zero incentive for them to take the long-term deals.

kylerkelton
13 days ago
Reply to  Anon21

He hasn’t played a full season since 2019. Even in the shortened 2020 season he only played 46 games.

Anon21
13 days ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

Basically what you’re saying is: he had a minor injury in 2020 that really has no effect at all on his future outlook, and then a major injury in 2021 that required him to make a late debut in 2022. So just say the latter part, which actually matters, and stop trotting out the silly line about “hasn’t played a full season since 2019” as if that says more than “he tore his ACL and has failed to return to his usual standard following his return.”

kylerkelton
13 days ago
Reply to  Anon21

I’m not talking about returning to his usual standard this season. I agree that he’ll be fine. I’m just saying that he’s consistently missed time due to injury. Sometimes for just a couple of weeks, but he does have an injury history.

hughduffy
13 days ago
Reply to  Anon21

Acuña has had two different knee injuries, one to each leg, causing him to miss at least a month each time.
In July 2021, Acuña tore his right knee’s ACL while trying to make a leaping grab near the outfield wall in Miami. That ended his season.
Acuña also missed 9 games in 2020 due to wrist inflammation.

But the one you’re forgetting happened in his rookie year.
In May 2018, Acuña ran hard to leg out an infield single in Boston. His leg buckled, he went airborne, and landed on his back. At the time, most believed he had suffered a season-ending injury. Luckily, it was just a mild ACL sprain on his left knee and a bruised back.
This is the injury that I think made him think that getting early guaranteed money would be a good idea. He signed his $100M extension in April 2019.

TimBrownUmember
13 days ago
Reply to  sbf21

FWIW (maybe not much), both Ronnie and Ozzie posted excited congrats messages on Instagram. Definitely didn’t need to do that and in fact, Dansby didn’t post anything.