It has been quite a month for Austin Riley. He was named Player of the Month for the National League after an unbelievable July where he hit .423/.459/.885 with 15 doubles and 11 home runs. He broke Hank Aaron’s record for extra-base hits in a month with 26 and was worth 2.6 fWAR which is the largest total for a month since Francisco Lindor put up 2.7 for Cleveland in May of 2018.
While Riley continues to blossom, the Atlanta Braves made sure Monday that he will be a big part of the club’s future going forward by signing him to a franchise record 10-year, $212 million contract that also includes a $20 million club option for 2033.
“This is something that took a lot of thought, a lot of phone calls, and I couldn’t be more happy to be here,” Riley said of the extension. “Talking with my wife and the agents, it felt right.”
Alex Anthopoulos said that the extension discussions actually began during the arbitration process. The Braves won their arbitration case with Riley who is making $3.95 million this season.
“The arbitration process was definitely a good time to have this discussion,” Alex Anthopoulos said. “Then, really just around this trade deadline, we’ve had a lot going on. We basically got it done the day that it was announced and it intensified really in that short period. We had set a foundation, in my opinion, prior to the arbitration process. I think the biggest thing is obviously, he wanted to be here, very important.”
Brian Snitker said that Riley’s extension was well deserved and that everything about him represents the Atlanta Braves well.
“Well deserved. He’s the kind of guy you want to get locked up for 10-plus years,” Snitker said. “You talk about guys that are representing your organization, that’s the guy you put on buses and vans and all that. The person he is, the player, the individual, it’s just everything that embodies the Atlanta Braves.”
Many of Riley’s teammates were assembled in the back row of the interview room where Tuesday’s press conference was taking place. Among the group was Max Fried, who could be in line for his own extension and free agent to be Dansby Swanson. That was something that Riley noticed and speaks to the close nit culture in Atlanta’s clubhouse.
“It’s awesome. I love those guys to death,” Riley said of his teammate. “We go to battle every day and they mean the most to me. Stepping in between those lines with those guys, it’s what it’s about and I can’t thank them enough.”
There have been plenty of ups and downs during Riley’s ascension. He burst onto the scene in 2019 homering 14 times in his first 43 games while playing left field. He slumped badly in July and a knee injury ended his season in early August. Riley cut his strikeout rate from 36.4% in 2019 to 23.8% but it came at a cost as he totaled just eight home runs in 206 plate appearances. That led to plenty of questions about his long term future as the team’s third baseman. He put those concerns to rest with a breakout season in 2021 hitting .303/.367/.531 with 33 home runs and a 135 wRC+ while earning down ballot MVP votes. He has taken his game to yet another level in 2022.
“He’s just proven that he’ll hang with himself. It wasn’t just come burst on the scene and everything easy for him,” Snitker said of how Riley has persevered over his career. “He had to make adjustments and weathered some storms and I think he showed he could do that in the minor leagues. The makeup of the person allows those kind of guys to get better and realize their potential and become the player that everybody thinks that they can.”
The Braves now have a young core of Riley, Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies locked up longterm. Fried could be added to that group as well at some point.
“That’s pretty good and it’s all quality players that you’re going to have around for quite a while,” Snitker said. “That’s pretty good to be able to do all that.”
“We got a really good group here, a good core. I think there is a lot of championships in our future,” Riley added. This group is unbelievable to work with. A lot of good talent in the clubhouse.”
The Braves have endured plenty of change since winning the World Series in 2021. Most notably the exit of longtime face of the franchise Freddie Freeman. The team made a statement with Riley’s extension and he now becomes one of several faces that will guide the franchise into the next decade.
“I have family here, my wife has family here. The organization has been just phenomenal to me from the start,” Riley said. “To be drafted by them and for them to put their faith in me, I think that meant them the most.”