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State of the Braves: Austin Riley patrols one corner, but questions loom at first base

Riley looks like a franchise cornerstone after a breakout 2021 campaign

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As Major League Baseball hits pause and we await the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Atlanta Braves continue to bask in their World Series glory.

With no transactions for at least a few more weeks, this presents an opportunity to take a look at the organization as a whole. With the Braves playing into November this past season, there was minimal chance to evaluate where the organization stands heading into an important offseason.

How is the roster situated for 2022 and beyond? Where is there depth and where could there be holes down the road? Next up in the series: the corner infield.

The Present

For the better part of the last decade, there was no question as to who would be at first base for the Braves. Freddie Freeman represented everything a team could ask for from its star player — excellent on-field production and zero off-field distraction. The club held onto Freeman during the darkest days of the rebuild, and he ended up winning a World Series at the end of it.

Freeman is now, obviously, a free agent. We never thought it would get to this point, but here we are in January with no resolution. By all accounts this is a strong relationship between Freeman and the organization, but the fact is he could very well be playing elsewhere in 2022. Alex Anthopoulos has held firm in his negotiations with players over the years, and Freeman seems likely to land a deal beyond what Anthopoulos would prefer to pay. Will he give in to an extra year (or two) on the deal to keep Freeman around?

Fortunately for the Braves, Austin Riley appears to be the real deal. He started slowly in 2021 but emerged into one of the game’s top third basemen over the summer months. Riley will be 25 years old on Opening Day and seems to be a cornerstone for the next half-decade. All eyes will be on him in his second full big league season.

The Future

This is the weakest spot in the farm system. There is not a single first or third basemen on the club’s top 30 prospect list, although fast-rising shortstop Vaughn Grissom may ultimately shift to third base. Riley figures to be in the club’s plan for the next 4+ years, but there is nothing internal if Freeman goes elsewhere or if something were to happen with Riley. Just another reason to bring Freddie back.

Bottom Line

Will Freddie Freeman return? It’s the biggest question on the minds of Braves fans. Everyone around the league seems to think he will be back to finish his career in Atlanta, but we’ve been saying the same thing for years now with no resolution. If he does not return, Anthopoulos will need to move with haste to fill an enormous hole in the lineup and locker room.

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