As the Winter Meetings are now in full swing in San Diego, rumors and reports are starting to become more frequent. For the Braves, the main takeaway so far has been that the Braves hope to add a power bat to their roster in the near future. While there has been plenty of speculation on multiple targets, one name that has surfaced multiple times is Marcell Ozuna.
Per John Morosi, the Braves are maintaining their interest in Ozuna. A key reason why is due to increased interest in Josh Donaldson across the major leagues. With many teams looking for third base upgrades, Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson will likely be in high demand. Once Rendon signs (it seems the Braves have some level of interest), a bidding war could commence for Donaldson. While bringing him back is obviously a preference for Atlanta, it seems there is a growing chance he could go elsewhere if teams with deeper pockets make a bigger commitment that Atlanta is not comfortable with.
While Kris Bryant and other options could be looked into on the trade market, they could require a high cost in terms of prospects. With Anthopoulos’s known reluctance to part with his top prospects, the Braves may have to look elsewhere to find their coveted big bat. The next logical place is the outfield, and while there are also plenty of trade options that make sense there as well, the Braves may feel the free agent market is the most logical way to go.
While the idea of what Ozuna can be is intriguing, there are few logical concerns with making him a fall back preference for Donaldson. First, he would cost a draft pick in 2020 to sign due to rejecting his qualifying offer. With the Braves already losing one pick due to the Will Smith signing, it seems losing a second pick may not be ideal. However, if signing Ozuna only becomes a logical option if Donaldson signs elsewhere, the loss of a draft pick becomes less of a concern due to the Braves gaining a draft pick per losing Donaldson, who rejected his own qualifying offer from Atlanta last month.
Secondly, the Braves investment in Ozuna may be viewed as a risk due to the wide ranges of production Ozuna has displayed in the recent past. Ozuna was an All-Star in 2016 and 2017, including a Top 15 MVP finish in 2017. However, after being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals before 2018, Ozuna did not replicate his previous success with the Marlins. After producing 5.0 fwar in 2017, he has been worth 5.2fWAR over the past two seasons. After producing a .924 OPS in 2017, Ozuna produced a .758 OPS in 2018 and a .804 OPS in 2019. While he has had stretches of being the middle of the order producer the Cardinals expected, he has also had extended slumps that has resulted in his overall production regressing.
However, there are indicators that Ozuna’s results in reality last season could have been impacted by a lack of luck. Though Ozuna finished the 2019 season with a .336 wOBA and .472 slugging percentage, his expected results came out to a .382 wxOBA and .548 xSLG, both of which finished in the top 25 of qualified hitters in 2019. Furthermore, if any team knows the difference that Ozuna can make, it is the Braves after he destroyed Atlanta pitching in the 2019 NLDS.
Obviously, reports such as this have carried little relevance since Anthopoulos arrived in Atlanta. There are also potentially more sensible options the Braves could explore, either due to cost or potential production, via trade and free agency. In the end, the focus likely remains on resigning Donaldson, as he fits a position of need on the field and in the lineup. However, the Braves need to have contingency plans in the case Donaldson goes elsewhere. Whether one of those plans is bringing Ozuna into the fold remains to be seen.
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