Should the Braves start thinking about locking up Austin Riley long term?

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Right now with the lockout, the Braves can do nothing more. However, I’m sure Alex Anthopoulos is still carefully considering all of his options with his payroll, and locking down Austin Riley could become a top priority if he continues to play at the level he did in 2021.

Riley should have been considered more of an MVP, but at the end of the day he got the prize that really matters – a ring. He finished 2021 by cutting .303 / .367 / .531 / .898 with 33 homers and 33 doubles. You also can’t ignore its efforts on defense. Riley had some great 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 this NLCS where his bat was a little quieter, he delivered one of the greatest moments in franchise history:

Riley is only 24, and as a cornerstone of the franchise, the Braves may be looking to lock him up now. We’ve seen Atlanta “redeem” years of officiating from guys like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, so should they do the same for Austin Riley?

Currently, Riley is not expected to become a free agent until 2026. He will be 29 by then. It’s a pretty tricky timeline for the Braves; if he performs as well as in 2026, he will win a huge contract. Its arbitrage should be fairly 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 that type of move. This gives them the chance to determine first base, have Riley on a fairly cheap deal, and see if he can repeat his performance in 2022. The Braves are in no rush to give Riley a big payday, but s ‘he has a 2022, they may have to consider giving him a large guaranteed raise to potentially buy a year or two of his premium.

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