After the Braves whiffed on (or, more accurately, kind of just took the pitch for a ball) bringing Josh Donaldson back into the fold, the team was put into a position where it was absolutely imperative for them to go out and find a big bat to add to their lineup. While a trade for any one of the big third basemen who are either rumored to be available or just want to leave town is still possible, it would have involved an absolutely massive commitment on Atlanta’s part to make a deal happen.
Meanwhile, they could have taken this opportunity to address their outfield concerns with either Marcell Ozuna or Nicholas Castellanos. As it turns out, they turned their eyes towards the former of those two players and the now-former Cardinals outfielder will be calling SunTrust Park his home ballpark for the next season.
Source confirms Marcell Ozuna has agreed to a one-year, $18M deal with the Braves. No option or incentives in the deal. @JeffPassan 1st.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) January 22, 2020
On the surface, this is a pretty decent signing for Atlanta. They were in dire need of a cleanup hitter and Ozuna fits the bill. His production at the plate from last season (.243/.330/.474 with 29 homers, .231 ISO and 110 wRC+) is in the neighborhood of what you should expect from him in an average season. Now that he’s going to be playing for the Braves, I think we’re all hoping that Ozuna will catch lightning in a bottle for his age-29 season and return to the form that made him such a hot commodity after the 2017 season.
If he does return to slamming nearly 40 dingers and bringing his wRC+ up to levels that we’re used to seeing from Freddie Freeman, then we’ll all be jumping for joy and praising the name of Alex Anthopoulos as the Braves make a serious run at this thing. While another breakout season is still possible for Ozuna, I still think it’s more likely that he’ll continue to float in the range of about 2.5-2.8 fWAR, and a three-win season would be pretty dang nifty. This isn’t going to be a like-for-like replacement when it comes to comparing the production of Marcell Ozuna and a healthy Josh Donaldson, but it’ll do enough to help Atlanta’s lineup to where there the offense should be fine once Opening Day rolls around.
As far as the defense goes, it depends on who you ask. If you ask Statcast’s brand-new Outfield Outs Above Average statistic, Ozuna is coming off of a pretty bad year where he finished with -8 Outs Above Average and in his best year (again, 2017), he finished with 3 Outs Above Average. On the other hand, DRS (2) and UZR/150 (8.6) think that Ozuna’s a perfectly fine and totally capable defender in the outfield. So with that in mind, we’re probably going to get something in the middle when it comes to Ozuna’s defense. He’s not going to be a defensive maestro out there, but I wouldn’t worry about him being a statue, either.
So while we probably shouldn’t expect Marcell Ozuna to tear it up and threaten to make the All-MLB team, the Braves are still going to be a better team for having him than what their situation was looking like before they signed him. Instead of having to lean on the platoon of Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall as an outfield option, Ozuna should bring some stability and help shore up what was clearly a weak spot — both in the lineup and in the grand scheme of things as well. According to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the 2020 Braves, the Markakis/Duvall platoon was set to produce around 1.1 fWAR for the upcoming season. This was nearly one full win behind the projection for the backstop combo of Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud and exactly one full win behind Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson and the combo of Austin Riley and Johan Camargo.
With those projections in mind, it’s clear that this signing was meant to address that issue. This also helps to give the bench a boost as well — this move will bump Markakis and Duvall to the bench and it’ll also make the spring training position battles for infielders real interesting. We’re probably going to see Johan Camargo starting out as the starting third baseman and if that happens then Riley’s going to spend some time in Triple-A until he’s ready. That’s coming straight from Mark Bowman:
A move would have to be made once Riley shows he's ready. At that point, Camargo could become a backup infielder https://t.co/MIOA6oBlq9— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) January 22, 2020
So while there are some moves that will need to happen at some point down the road, the acquisition of Ozuna has turned those tough choices into one of those good problems to have. I wouldn’t say that the Braves have a great bench, but they’re going to have a fair amount of depth for the upcoming season. Personally, the feeling is a little similar to how I felt when the Braves signed Donaldson to his deal last season. Adding Ozuna makes the Braves better in more than just what he can provide for the team at his position.
The most interesting part of this is that the Braves ended up getting Marcell Ozuna for only one year. There was plenty of talk about Ozuna getting something in the range of two-to-three years, so it was definitely a shock to see that he only signed up for one season — especially since it’s a straight-up one-year deal with no options or incentives. I would have been okay with two years, but one year could work out for the best and serve as a bridge to 2021. That should surely be the year where Cristian Pache and/or Drew Waters are ready for the bigs and they won’t have to worry about anybody blocking them in left field, at least.
We probably shouldn’t worry about anybody clamoring to bring Ozuna back for another season — even if everything goes well in 2020. Again, there’s always a possibility that Ozuna could return to his 2017 form and become one of the best outfielders in the National League. I don’t see that coming and that’s fine. Even if he produces an average season for his standards and leaves, the Braves will be fine as the newer crop of outfielders should be ready to go by then. This is a move that isn’t spectacular, but it needed to be done and the Braves will be better off for having Marcell Ozuna wearing their uniform for the upcoming season.