Back in November, the Braves made a furious start to the postseason after adding Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to their rotation via free agency. The two deals in relatively short order seemed to indicate that the Braves planned on being active throughout the rest of the offseason, and that they were zeroing in on their weakness from the previous season as well. While both signings were good and made Atlanta’s pitching staff better, there was still a bit of cautious optimism to be had in the wake of those signings. Smyly and Morton are solid additions, but they shouldn’t be the crowning jewel of your offseason if you’re a team that came one win away from the World Series during the previous season.
So when I said this all the way back in November, I said it with the assumption that the Braves would at least give us something to latch onto as the offseason progressed and we got closer to pitchers and catchers reporting.
When it comes to the outlook for the rest of the offseason, it’s encouraging to see that the Braves have gotten off to a really good start here. They’ve done a solid job in shoring up the rotation by bringing in Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. This may not be the huge free agency splash that some fans may have wanted when it came to starting pitching, but this is definitely enough to make the Braves a better team than they were in 2020 — especially when it comes to the rotation. There’s still some work to do and it appears that the Braves are going to make an earnest attempt to retain the services of Marcell Ozuna. If they whiff on bringing back Ozuna, I’ve got confidence that the Braves can find a way to bounce back and keep the good offseason going.
As it turns out, it actually would’ve been a massive disappointment had the Braves whiffed on Marcell Ozuna at this point in the offseason. After seeing the Dodgers, Padres, Mets, Cardinals (Dear Rockies, what in the world was that trade?), and even the Phillies at least make an effort to acquire and/or retain impact players to improve their squad, the Braves were seemingly backed into a corner to where they would’ve gone from hanging with the surefire contenders in the National League to being just slightly ahead of the pack had they missed out on bringing Ozuna back into the fold.
Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about the Braves missing out on Ozuna because they took care of that and made sure that he’ll be here for the next four years as well.
Needless to say, this qualifies as a big offseason win for the Braves. Ozuna’s contributions at the plate during the 2020 season helped transform what was a good Braves lineup into one of the deepest lineups in all of the National League. Ozuna, Freddie Freeman, and Ronald Acuña Jr. formed what was arguably the best 1-2-3 punch at the top of any lineup that you would see on the field last season. Freddie Freeman had an incredible season in 2020, and part of that was due to Ozuna providing some high-level protection hitting behind him. Pitching around Freeman was not the option like it used to be in previous years, because that meant that Ozuna had the potential to punish the opposing team with runners on base — which is something that he did regularly last season. The Braves being able to have that trio return for the 2021 season is unquestionably good, and here’s hoping that they’ll be able to repeat their efforts at the plate during a (hopefully) full season this year.
It also helps that the return of Marcell Ozuna was agreed upon at a pretty fair price for both parties. When it came to various predictions about the type of contract that Ozuna would sign, the financial numbers usually landed in the range between $60 million and $75 million, so the fact that Ozuna ended up getting $65 million guaranteed is pretty good for him — a $16 million AAV contract is nothing to sneeze at when it makes you the second-highest paid player on the team. Plus, Ozuna seems pretty happy to call Atlanta his home for the next few years and the rest of the clubhouse seems to be thrilled to have him back. Everybody’s happy!
As far as the Braves are concerned, this qualifies as a bit of a bargain. Again, it’s not an insane (and borderline obscene) bargain like the ones they got on Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, but it’s enough to where it makes sense considering how the Braves have spent money in recent years. I’d imagine that the inexplicable lack of clarity surrounding the use of a universal Designated Hitter for this season and beyond was what caused a lot of the holdup between Ozuna, the Braves, and any other National League teams who had interest as well. I’d also assume that if the Braves were willing to sign Ozuna to a four-year deal as he enters his age-30 season, this means that they’re confident that there will be a universal DH either this season or at some point in the near future. Either way, it’s a deal that makes a ton of sense in terms of both money and fit — frankly, it’s still kind of mystifying that it took this long for it to happen.
At the risk of getting too caught up in the euphoria of the Braves retaining a hitter of Ozuna’s caliber, I think that this contract is an indication that the Braves could end this offseason with a flurry of activity. They’ve still got some work to do when it comes to filling out the back of their bullpen and could still add another bat to go in the outfield — Adam Duvall immediately comes to mind when it comes to that. They also clearly have some flexibility to make some more moves, since that vaunted 1-2-3 punch at the top of their lineup will cost the Braves nearly $1 million less in 2021 than what the Dodgers will be paying to Trevor Bauer by himself this season.
The Braves could do well with a few more small-scale signings to complete the roster, but there’s another option that is looking more and more tantalizing with each day that passes by. On Friday, Hector Gomez was one of the first MLB insiders to report that the Braves and Marcell Ozuna had come to an agreement. Later on, he had this to say about a trade rumor that has been floating around on the internet for a while now:
Thanks. Yes, I have heard that the #Braves are interested in a trade with the Indians to get Jose Ramirez.— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) February 6, 2021
I still recommend that you take rumors like this with a boulder-sized grain of salt, but I also want you all to imagine the Braves turning the 1-2-3 punch of Acuña-Freeman-Ozuna into a 1-2-3-4 combo of Acuña-Freeman-Jose Ramirez-Ozuna. Seriously, just close your eyes for a second and think about what it would look like with those four wreaking havoc on any opposing pitchers who cross their path. It’s fun to dream, isn’t it? The onus is apparently now on the Braves to turn those dreams into what would surely be an amazing reality.
When you consider some of the laughably bad returns that some teams have received for trading away their superstar players in recent years (including this offseason), it’s feasible that the Braves could pull off a trade with Cleveland without having to wreck the quality of their organizational depth in the process. With that being said, the Braves should still be aggressive in their pursuit if Cleveland is truly shopping Jose Ramirez around. The top of the National League figures to be extremely competitive this year, and adding a piece like Ramirez could be the difference between a short stint in October and another deep run that could potentially go further than the NLCS for the Braves.
The Braves can now ponder those possibilities thanks to re-signing Marcell Ozuna for the next four years. It’s the type of move that the Braves needed to make in order to make sure that they had a good and productive offseason. Objectively, the Braves are currently a slight favorite to win their fourth-straight NL East title, so they’ve still got a move or two left to make before they can really consider themselves clear favorites to take the division again. Still, they absolutely needed to make sure that a hitter of Ozuna’s caliber was still in the lineup for 2021 and beyond. They’ve pulled it off, and now the Braves have a chance to turn a good offseason into a great one as we get closer to the start of spring training.