Any baseball mind you ask may have a different answer when asked who is more talented: Marcell Ozuna or Nick Castellanos? You are splitting hairs, as while their games are different, their talent level is similar. However, despite a boiling hot end to 2019 from Castellanos, many saw Marcell Ozuna as the superior free agent heading into this offseason. Yet somehow, Alex Anthopoulos was able to convince Ozuna to commit to a one-year, prove-it contract, while Castellanos received a dream deal from the Reds.
After losing Josh Donaldson, the Braves needed a bat to bolster the middle of their lineup, and the only remaining difference makers with the stick were three free-agent outfielders: Ozuna, Castellanos, and Yasiel Puig. The team ultimately ended up signing Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal despite him having multiple 3-4 year deals on the table. Ozuna bet on himself, and the Braves are the house. They take little risk and fill their need while they wait for Drew Waters and Cristian Pache to emerge as legitimate major leaguers.
Though Ozuna could have had a multi-year deal if he wanted, he did not take one because he felt he was worth more than what teams were offering. That is why it was surprising to see the figures that the Cincinnati Reds handed Nick Castellanos this week. The Reds guaranteed Castellanos $64 million over for years, and he can even opt-out of his deal after 2020 or 2021. Not only is this figure higher than what MLB Trade Rumors expected him to receive, but it is also a deal that puts all the risk on the team. The chances are that Castellanos will be able to inflate his numbers by playing in the Great American Smallpark and jump ship for a better deal whenever he sees fit. Ozuna will earn more in terms of AAV, but the Braves will have the opportunity to keep their options open going forward.
Castellanos may have had the best stretch of his career when traded to the Cubs, but it is a small sample size. He has been an above-average bat that has been a bit more consistent than Ozuna, but he is also among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball and offers nothing on the basepaths. The Braves have made defense a considerable priority. That, along with Castellanos being a Scott Boras client, made Ozuna the clear choice, and they got the exact deal they wanted.
While Ozuna is always above average, his 2017 season showed that he can be a legitimate superstar. The talent goes way further than his recent stat lines too. Ozuna had a career-low .241 average last season, but he also had an incredibly low .259 BABIP, suggesting he was extremely unlucky. He still showed elite exit velocity and hard-hit percentage and is due for positive regression. Ozuna missed 32 games last year. Assuming positive regression, a full season played, and a transition to a much more hitter-friendly ballpark, it is a calculated risk worth taking in a guy who has a legit shot at a 40 homer season.
If the Braves had signed Castellanos, they would have no control over their plans for that portion of funds beyond this season. While with Ozuna, they do not block any prospects and add a guy who has a chance to be a 3.0-4.0 WAR player.
Nobody wanted to see a talent such as Donaldson leave, but a four-to-five year deal carried a ton of risk. The Braves will have to rely on the duo of Austin Riley and Johan Camargo at third base to pick up some of the slack. But if they produce well, the team can at least come close to replicating that lost production between those two and Ozuna, as compared to Donaldson and a platoon of Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall.
The Braves are currently a much more preferred free-agent destination than the Reds. It makes sense that Cincinnati has had to overspend a bit to bring in relevant free agents. But there is no denying the way this played out just made Alex Anthopoulos look a whole lot smarter.
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