Braves: Austin Riley’s contract looks even better today

Braves Austin Riley

Yesterday, the Red Sox and Rafael Devers came to an agreement on a massive 11-year, $331 million extension for him to stay in Boston.

That’s a nearly $30 million AAV for one of the best third basemen in baseball that will take him through his age-37 season. I think it’s probably a slight overpay for Devers, but the Red Sox were a little desperate after letting go of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts for essentially nothing. They couldn’t let another star walk out the door, or everyone in the building might lose their job, if the Red Sox fans didn’t burn the place down first. Regardless, this is the ideal time to look at Austin Riley‘s contract — who’s a comparable player to Devers — and see why Alex Anthopoulos’ getting out in front of these extensions is genius.

In the middle of last season, the Braves chose to hand Riley the most lucrative contract in team history — 10 years, $212 million with a club option for the 2023 season. That’s about $9 million less per year than Devers will receive over the course of his deal, yet over the last few seasons, the two are almost mirror images of each other.

Both third basemen have become elite offensively, but their defense at the hot corner has left much to be desired to this point in their respective careers. If either of them can improve in that area, they will be frontrunners to win the MVP every season because few bats strike more fear into opposing pitchers.

In 2021, Devers hit .279 and mashed 38 homers — good for an .890 OPS and 4.2 fWAR. The following year, the Red Sox third baseman hit .295 with 27 homers — good for an .879 OPS and 4.7 fWAR. You’re not going to find much better offensive production than that… unless you’re glancing at the back of Austin Riley’s baseball card.

Riley has become a monster for the Braves over the last two seasons. His breakout campaign came in 2021, in which he slashed .303/.367/.531. He recorded 33 homers and finished with 4.7 fWAR. Understandably, the Braves wanted to see if he could replicate that production before offering him an extension, especially after he recorded an absurdly high .368 BABIP (batting average of balls in play) in 2021. However, that’s why 2022 was so pleasant.

Last season, Riley’s BABIP was down over 40 points — to .315 — and he managed to put up equally impressive numbers. He led the league in total bases and recorded a career-high in home runs (38) and fWAR (5.5).

Now, a lot more goes into these deals than just the surface level numbers. Devers was closer to free agency, so he was always going to get a much bigger contract. Devers also had a year back in 2019 — when he was 22-years-old — where he recorded 6.7 fWAR. That extra year of production was undoubtedly used in negotiations, but it doesn’t change the fact that Austin Riley has been the better of the two players over the last two seasons and will be paid $9 million less per year.

Much has been made about the Braves ability to get their players to take below market deals. I don’t buy into that; there’s a lot of risk in these long-term extensions they’re handing out so early into players’ careers. However, when you see numbers like this with comparable players, you have to appreciate Alex Anthopoulos’ willingness to get out in front of things and lock these players up for the prime of their careers.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire



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