Austin Riley’s new 10-year deal most lucrative in Braves’ history

Credit: AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
All-Star third baseman and the team have agreed on a new 10-year contract. Here are some of the specifics:

Credit: AJC

Years ago, Brian Bridges, then the Braves’ scouting director, went to a field to watch high school senior Austin Riley. At the time, most of the industry viewed Riley as a pitcher, but the Braves found themselves intrigued with his raw power.

Behind the dugout, Bridges met Riley’s parents. He asked Riley’s mother, Elisa a question: What do you think he wants to do – be a pitcher or a hitter?

“Brian, my son will do whatever it takes to play in the big leagues,” Bridges remembers Elisa Riley telling him. “He’ll catch. He wants to play.”

Just over seven years from that day, Riley is one of baseball’s best third basemen. His numbers say it and, with Monday’s news, his contract reflects it.

The Braves announced they signed Riley to a 10-year, $212 million deal that runs through the 2032 season and includes a $20 million club option for 2033. Riley’s deal is the most lucrative in franchise history.

ExploreRiley proves he belongs among NL's best players

Riley will make $15 million in 2023, $21 million in 2024 and $22 million per year over the remainder of the contract. He’s donating $2.12 million to the Atlanta Braves Foundation. There is no deferred money in the contract.

“I’m super fortunate and can thank the man above for this happening,” Riley said Tuesday. “Words really can’t describe it. … This organization has been phenomenal to me from the start. To be drafted by them, and for them to put their faith in me, that meant the most to me.”

The Braves initially reached out to Riley’s camp in April, before his arbitration hearing, about a potential contract extension. But the club’s idea for a deal at that time was for fewer years and for less than half of the total dollar amount that Riley eventually received.

“We had set a foundation, in my opinion, prior to the arbitration process,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday. “I think the biggest thing is, obviously he wanted to be here – very important.”

Anthopoulos later added this about the magnitude of the deal for the club: “I’ve never done a deal like this as a GM or have ever come close to this many years or dollars.”

Riley’s extension, in which the team bought out his final three years of arbitration, included benefits for both him and the Braves.

The Braves are paying $15 million, $21 million and $22 on the three remaining arbitration years. Riley lost to the Braves in arbitration this year. He’s making $3.95 million this season and, if he were to have gone year to year without this extension, a rough estimate says he might have made $10 million, $15 million and $20 million over his final three arbitration years.

So with his deal, Riley received the money in a front-loaded manner – more money toward the beginning of his contract. And because the Braves are paying more in the arbitration years, they’re paying $22 million per year for the third baseman’s free agent years.

Riley gets more money sooner. The Braves, on the other hand, made it look as if the free agent years match those of Matt Olson, who will make $21 million per year over eight years beginning in 2023. Everyone wins.

The 25-year-old Riley is batting .301 with a .964 OPS over 101 games this season. He has 29 home runs and 68 RBIs. Riley, named to his first All-Star team this year, leads the majors with 61 extra-base hits. He ranks fourth in homers and sixth in OPS.

According to Baseball Reference, Riley ranks eighth in baseball with 4.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Among the players ahead of him: Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani and Nolan Arenado.

“He did everything to play in the big leagues, to be successful,” Bridges told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a phone interview Monday evening. “I know the hard work that he’s put in, and I know his struggles the whole way through. I couldn’t be happier for him, I couldn’t be happier for his wife and I couldn’t be happier for his whole family.”

And with his performance in July, he placed himself into the National League MVP conversation. In 26 games in July, Riley hit .423 with a 1.344 OPS. He collected 15 doubles, 11 home runs and 25 RBIs.

ExploreRiley walks it off as Braves sweep D-Backs

His 26 extra-base hits in the month are the most ever by a Braves player in a calendar month, breaking a record set by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in 1961. His batting average and homer totals from the month put him with Hall of Famer Chipper Jones as the only Braves players to bat .400 with double-digit homers in a month.

Since the Braves drafted Riley with the No. 41 overall pick in 2015 out of DeSoto Central High School in Southhaven, Miss., he has developed into one of the sport’s top hitters. Last season, Riley finished seventh in NL MVP voting after batting .303 with 33 homers and 107 RBIs. He also captured his first Silver Slugger Award and was named to the All-MLB First Ream. In the playoffs, he blasted two homers and hit a walk-off single in Game 1 of the NLCS versus the Dodgers.

His meteoric rise earned him a nice deal.

“I kind of figured he was kind of forcing the situation based on last year and how he’s doing so far this year,” Bridges said. “I wouldn’t bet against the child. I know what he had done.

Riley, who debuted in 2019, was an arbitration-eligible player set to become a free agent after the 2025 season. But he’s put himself among the group of baseball’s best third basemen. Now he’ll be paid as such as his contract passes Matt Olson’s eight-year, $168 deal for the richest in Braves history.

In terms of average annual value on his contract, Riley’s deal will rank fourth for third basemen. Anthony Rendon’s seven-year, $245 million deal leads the bunch, followed by Nolan Arenado’s eight-year, $260 million deal and Manny Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract.

The Braves have placed themselves in a great position with their quartet of young stars:

- Riley is now signed through at least the 2032 season.

- Ronald Acuña is signed through 2026 season but his contract includes club options for 2027 and 2028.

- Olson’s contract runs through 2029 and includes a club option for 2030.

- Ozzie Albies’ deal has club options for 2026 and 2027.

That’s three members of the starting infield, and one of the starting outfield, under control for a long time. The Braves have a history of fielding players who are beloved by the fans. From Hank Aaron to Chipper Jones, they’ve had a healthy amount of franchise cornerstones. Over the length of his extension, Riley could become another one of them.

As Riley ripped through opposing pitchers, developing into one of the game’s top hitters, one question surfaced: Could the Braves make him part of their long-term future? Atlanta answered the question in a resounding way.

At one point during the Braves’ scouting journey with Riley in 2015, Bridges found himself near Riley on a back field. With no other scouts around, Bridges walked up to Riley and asked him the same question he would eventually ask Riley’s mother.

“Pitcher or hitter?” Bridges asked.

“I’m a hitter,” Riley said, short and sweet.

The rest, as they say, is history.

ExploreScorching hot month of July for Riley