Right now with the lockout, the Braves can’t do too much of anything. However, I’m sure Alex Anthopoulos is still carefully examining all of his options with his payroll, and locking up Austin Riley could become a top priority if he continues to play at the level he did in 2021.
☑️ #WorldSeries champs
☑️ All MLB team
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) November 24, 2021
Riley should have gotten more MVP consideration, but at the end of the day, he got the award that really matters — a ring. He finished 2021 slashing .303/.367/.531/.898 with 33 home runs and 33 doubles. You can’t discount his efforts on defense, either. Riley had some big moments in the 2021 playoffs, finishing with a .908 OPS in the NLDS, a .659 OPS in the NLCS, and a .760 OPS in the World Series. During that NLCS when his bat was a little more quiet, he delivered one of the greatest moments in franchise history:
My angle of Austin Riley’s walkoff last night. Home crowd was loud! pic.twitter.com/YjAd3wsLXt
— Pete Gottschalk (@SimplyPG13) October 17, 2021
Riley is only 24 years old, and as a franchise cornerstone, the Braves could look to lock him up now. We’ve seen Atlanta “buy out” some arbitration years from guys like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, so should they do the same for Austin Riley?
Right now, Riley isn’t slated to be a free agent until 2026. He will be 29-years-old at that time. This is a pretty tricky timeline for the Braves; if he’s playing as well as he is in 2026, he will command a massive contract. His arbitration is expected to be pretty reasonable in 2022, projected at $3.2 million by MLBTradeRumors and $4 million by Spotrac. With that number in mind, I think the Braves should wait until next season to make this type of move. This gives them the ability to figure out first base, have Riley on a pretty cheap deal, and see if he can have a repeat performance in 2022. The Braves are in no rush to give Riley a big payday, but if he has a stellar 2022, they may need to consider giving him a large guaranteed raise to potentially buy a year or two of his prime.