Atlanta Braves 3B Austin Riley reaches service milestone

It’s still been a marker of note over the last several years, so the Atlanta Braves will likely have to factor that into their budget no matter how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement eventually shakes out.

 Baseball-reference.com shows the MLB service time of Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley to be 2 years and 138 days as of today (a number that won’t change until at least Opening Day 2022).

Therefore Riley will join the ranks of his brethren eligible for salary arbitration this Winter as a “Super Two” player… one of the 22% most-tenured players with service time between 2 and 3 seasons.

Riley will be eligible for salary arbitration beginning immediately… a 4th such year when 3 is still the norm.

Max Fried became a Super Two this time last year… and his salary jumped from $565,000 in 2020 (pro-rated) to $3.5 million in 2021.  MLB Trade Rumors estimates that Riley could see an even bigger bump… to $4.3 million… after his breakout 2021 season.

But while changes are a’coming to the MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players’ union (MLBPA), it’s not likely to result in Riley losing this status.

If anything, the MLBPA is seeking to expand the earning power of players like Riley.

There has been a trend in recent years — you can blame it on analytics, collusion (a loaded word in labor circles), or simple common sense — toward teams being stingy on payments to players who have reached the age of 30 and beyond.

Jake covered some of this recently (noting several key arguments for the teams), but why this is coming to a head now?

For one thing, the steroid era delayed this labor battle for a couple of decades as teams were freely awarding big contracts to players after their arbitration years had ended.

When steroids were prevalent, many players were quite productive well into their mid-30’s.  Since then… not nearly as much. Teams have since begun to recoil at the thought of awarding big money and longer contract terms deep into a player’s 30’s… perhaps why Freddie Freeman remains unsigned at this point.

Beyond that, we’re now seeing the emergence of superstars while they are still “under team control”… kids that are still making salaries close to the major league minimum.

Fried, for example, is now 27 years old.  It took him a bit to reach the majors, and on the current schedule he will be 30 when first eligible for free agency.  He’s going to get some significant monies before then, but not necessarily the big contract.

Would he get the “big contract then”?  Maybe… the elite players are still getting their payday under the current system.

Jacob deGrom received a 5 year, $137.5 million contract from the Mets just prior to turning 31, buying out a final arbitration year that occurred during that ‘age 31’ season in 2019.

But that’s the exception rather than the rule, and the MLBPA is trying to get more money into the hands of early breakout stars like Riley, Juan Soto, and others.  This would protect them in case of serious injury and career loss.

The good news for Riley is that this negotiation pendulum has swung as far to one side as it is likely to ever be and he won’t be any worse off than getting something in that $4+ million range for 2022.

He certainly earned that in 2021… and that’s pretty much the point here:  he wasn’t the only one that should be paid well for services rendered.