The Atlanta Braves would rather keep Austin Riley than trade for Kris Bryant this offseason.
Coming up one win short of getting back to the World Series, the Atlanta Braves are very much interested in keeping their young core together. This means they are focusing on adding a left fielder, as opposed to swapping third basemen with the Chicago Cubs, sending Austin Riley to the Windy City in exchange for Kris Bryant coming to The ATL.
Atlanta still needs to address the heart of its batting order, as well as left field this offseason. Adam Duvall has hit free agency, while last year’s home run and runs batted in leader Marcell Ozuna remains unsigned. Adding Bryant would have solved the batting order dilemma by trading for him, but that would have meant giving up on Riley, as he would certainly go the other way.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 11, 2021
Could Marcell Ozuna be back with the Braves on a second contract now?
What Riley provides the Braves is a power bat from the right side of the plate and high-end defense at the hot corner. While Atlanta was not sure if he was a left fielder or a third basemen prior to 2020, Riley emerged as somewhat of a young Scott Rolen in his first full season in the big leagues. He may not be ready to hit behind Freddie Freeman, but he can be a menace at the plate.
As for what the Braves can do in left field, they may very well end up bringing back Ozuna on another contract. While he flourished as the Braves’ designated hitter a season ago, he is a bit of a liability in the outfield. Then again, how much worse is his defense over what Riley would have provided there? At worst, the Braves can bring back veteran Nick Markakis in a slight platoon role.
What Atlanta has going for it is two studs defensively in the outfield as a big part of their future in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cristian Pache. The idea is Acuña will play center field until Pache is ready to be the every day starter, then Acuña will move to right field. Markakis has shown he can play Gold Glove-caliber defense at either corner outfield spot. Again, this is all about protecting Freeman.
If the Braves can go right-left-right with Acuña, Freeman and an Ozuna in that third spot in the batting order, Atlanta will stand a great chance of winning the NL East for the fourth year in a row. 2021 is about winning the pennant for the first time since 1999. The Braves are one of three main contenders in the NL this year, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.
This front-office decision signifies the Braves’ growing belief Riley will become a star one day.