When news broke on Monday afternoon that Austin Riley had reached a decade-long pact to keep him in Atlanta through the year 2032, the reaction was overwhelming. Alex Anthopoulos, once again, had moved swiftly to lock down a core player, keeping the Braves’ World Series window wide open for years to come.
“HOW THE **** DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING EVERY TIME” tweeted a prominent Mets twitter account. Many others echoed his sentiment. One asked if Anthopoulos was running a money laundering scheme that required a federal investigation.
Riley had just became the latest Braves star to sign a below-market deal to keep him in Atlanta for years to come. In wake of the signing, FanGraphs’ Dan Szymborski wrote, “In terms of rest-of-career WAR, ZiPS now ranks him as the top third baseman in baseball, his recent offensive outburst being just enough to force José Ramírez out of the top spot.” Szymborski also opined that if Riley hit the open market this winter, he’d command a 10-year deal for $258 million. Riley is now signed for the next decade at a lower average annual value (AAV) than fellow third base stars Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. And he’s only 25 years old. The best contracts are often the ones focused on where a player is going and not where he has been.
Anthopoulos’ propensity to lock in team-friendly deals began (almost infamously) with Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies in the early days of the 2019 season. Acuna Jr., who had just 120 big league games under his belt at the time, was up first with a then-record-setting $100 million over eight years with two club options tacked on to keep him in town through 2029. Albies then signed a shocker a few days later — seven years and $35 million with two club options — that drew the ire of player agents everywhere.
Look, every dollar in a baseball contract is guaranteed. Think back on when you were in your early-20s, and ask yourself if you would have accepted a life-changing amount of money, even if it capped your earnings ceiling over the next 10 years. Two hundred and twelve million dollars is an insane amount of money to guarantee your family’s future. Could Riley have played out the arbitration process for three more years, then hit the open market in 2026 and made a few more dollars? Sure. He might be the National League’s Most Valuable Player in two months, and it would be highly deserved. He’s going to be a very rich man either way. He knows it, and Anthopoulos knew it, too. Instead of letting the process play out, he swooped in and locked in yet another franchise star to a lengthy contract. The last thing this organization needs is another fiasco similar to Freddie Freeman’s.
The Braves now have their core four of Acuna, Albies, Olson and Riley locked in through the 2027 season. For 37 years of combined contract control, the Braves will pay them a total of $515 million. Juan Soto, as great as he may be, figures to get somewhere close to that number in a couple of seasons. Aaron Judge will be up there, too. Salaries across baseball (and professional sports in general) are exploding. And if any of those four Braves hit the open market tomorrow, all four would likely land contracts far more lucrative than the ones Anthopoulos has gotten signatures on.
The Braves were in a turbulent stretch upon the sudden collapse of the John Coppolella and John Hart tenure. A little less than five years in, Anthopoulos has hit a grand slam once again.