Austin Riley has come a long way since his rookie year of 2019. His season had the hallmarks of a shooting star that year, and once pitchers figured him out, he burned out to the point where he didn’t even make the playoff roster. He was still in the midst of trying to figure it out in 2020 (and the drastically shortened year surely didn’t do him any favors), but he did manage a couple of big playoff moments (while overall not hitting particularly well in the postseason that year, either), the biggest of which was the game-winning homer in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.

He seemed to figure some things out going into the 2021 season, though, and he’s quickly become one of the best third basemen in the league. Over the last two years, he’s received down-ballot MVP votes (finishing seventh and sixth, respectively), a Silver Slugger award and an All-Star nod. He slashed .303/.367/.531 in 2021 and .273/.349/.528 in 2022. I would also argue that he was more valuable in 2022 than 2021, for what that’s worth, as with Freddie Freeman gone, Ronald Acuna out or not himself, and Ozzie Albies injured for most of the year, more was required of him last year. And with that, he delivered at about the same level he had in 2021.

He’s also locked down going forward, having signed a 10-year, $212 million extension midway through last season, a deal which includes step-ups in salary from $15 million next year to $22 million a year over the final eight years and a $20 million club option at the back end. So we will get to see Austin as the Braves third baseman many years into the future. He’s only 25 years old, so he should be just coming into his prime now, and the Braves don’t have to worry about losing him to free agency while he gets security and what seems to me to be a pretty fair contract. This is a team-friendly deal to a certain extent, as he would obviously command more on the open market if he had gotten to free agency. However, there’s a wide gap between the Albies extension (the most team-friendly of them) and the Riley one, and I haven’t really understood why folks who are keen on insisting the Braves are robbing these poor young players blind have been lumping them all in together like there’s no difference between them.

In any case, Austin has become one of my favorite Braves to watch, and I look forward to doing so for the foreseeable future. And I hope for Bravey’s sake that he has spent this whole offseason trying to forget about the fact that he now makes over $200 million…