Braves: Marcell Ozuna’s contract is a powerful bargain 

Marcell Ozuna

No matter how much you buy into the whole “protection” aspect of a batting lineup, until Friday the Braves’ offense desperately needed a power-bat. And with just a few weeks left in the current offseason, GM Alex Anthopoulos finally pulled the lever we’ve all been waiting for — the one that featured re-signing slugger Marcell Ozuna, which he did, inking the outfielder to a four-year, $65 million deal (which also includes an option for a fifth year, valued at $16 million).

You may balk a bit at the length of Marcell’s new contract, for we were almost certain more than a two or three-year commitment from Atlanta was off the table. But let me tell you, folks, for a multi-year contract this is an incredibly low-risk investment. Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, Ozuna will earn just $12 million this coming season, $16 million in 2022 and then $18 million in each of 2023 and ’24. The Braves also included a $16-million club-option for the 2025 season, which carries a $1-million buyout.

As you can see, Atlanta will essentially save a combined $8 million for Ozuna’s services (compared to his $18-million salary in 2020) over the next couple of seasons, providing the team with some flexibility payroll-wise in order to potentially make more impactful moves. Via the payroll page at FanGraphs, the Braves tab currently sits at just over $156 million for the 2021 season, still several signings shy of the first luxury-tax penalty level ($210 million). 

But even when looking past the financials of Friday’s signing, it’s fairly easy to see just how essential this move is for Atlanta. Still 30-years-old, it’s reasonable to expect most of Ozuna’s value with the bat to remain throughout the life of his new contract, and with the universal DH coming most likely as soon as 2022, any and all of his defensive concerns should become quite insignificant. At the time of this writing FanGraphs had not yet updated Ozuna’s ZiPS projections past this coming season, but judging simply by how high a ceiling his 2021 projections are it’s safe to presume that $65 million comes in below what Ozuna should be worth over the next four seasons.

Ozuna’s 2021 ZiPS projection

139 G, .287 AVG, 127 wRC+, 34 HR, 3.6 fWAR

Even if we factor in a rather dramatic decline for Ozuna and predict a drop of 1 WAR in each of the three seasons guaranteed on his contract after 2021, he’s still worth the money. At a 1-WAR drop per year, of course after posting 3.6 WAR this coming season, Ozuna would end his contract with the Braves at 8.4 WAR overall, which when using $8M/WAR comes out to $67.2 million in value. It’s simple, for this amount of money, even a rather dramatically regressed Ozuna is better than no Ozuna in Atlanta. 

But of course regression is just part of the game, and there is the very real possibility Ozuna takes a step back compared to his incredible 2020 campaign. Even with a shortened-season last year, you still have to go back all the way to 2015 to find Ozuna’s career-low, when was worth 1.5 WAR with the Marlins (in just his second full season in the majors). Ironically, his defense was above-average then, but Ozuna finished that season with a .259 AVG and 10 home runs in 123 games, though he certainly wasn’t the same power-type guy at the plate.

Ever since that all-time low for Ozuna in 2015, he’s averaged 3.04 fWAR per season from 2016-20, including an above-average wRC+ in each of those five campaigns; that’s a far cry from the 2.1-WAR pace he’d have in the 1-WAR depreciation scenario mentioned above. Yeah, it’s unlikely Ozuna falls off that sharply and that quickly.

So everyone put their pitchforks away. Anthopoulos cut it close but he played his cards right and got his guy at a very team-friendly price. Even if all that’s left on the docket this offseason is a few depth moves, Braves Country should feel good about Friday’s deal. I know I am. 

 

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