The Braves finally broke their nearly two-month-long silence by signing Marcell Ozuna to a one-year pact worth $18 million. The move fills their need for a power bat behind Freddie Freeman, who benefited tremendously from having Josh Donaldson hit behind him last season.
Ozuna is no Donaldson. He will play left field, and isn’t nearly the same with the glove as Josh was at the hot corner. At this point in his career, he’s an average defender, but that’s not why the Braves were interested. Ozuna smashed 29 homers in just 132 games for the Cardinals last season – his second year in St. Louis – and while that’s more than respectable, his time with the Redbirds will be viewed somewhat as a disappointment.
The Cardinals acquired Ozuna from the Marlins before the 2018 season. Prior to that, he made back-to-back All-Star games with the Fish, and in 2017, he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers – good for a .924 OPS. In his two years with St. Louis, he only recorded a .779 OPS. Because of that, it’s not shocking he took a deal similar to the one Josh Donaldson accepted for 2019 – a one-year, prove-it contract in an ideal situation that could end up paying substantial dividends. Ozuna will be 30 next offseason and looking for that same lucrative, long-term deal that he’s been unable to find since November, which the Braves are not ruling out if he performs like he is capable.
Alex Anthopoulos didn't rule out the possibility of Ozuna being here beyond 2020. "I think this is a very good opportunity for him to play to his potential with a good team, good lineup. There's always the potential that this could be a longer deal over time" #Braves @680TheFan
— Kevin McAlpin (@KevinMcAlpin) January 22, 2020
Now, you may be thinking, “This is the Braves; they’ll never commit to more than a couple of years, just look how they let Josh Donaldson walk.” And to a degree, you’re right. I did say these contracts are eerily similar, and Atlanta did decide to let Donaldson sign elsewhere after he had one of the best years of his career. But while these contracts are alike, the players are not.
Ozuna and Donaldson are in totally different stages of their careers. At 29, Ozuna is right in the middle of his prime with several years remaining before regression should start to show. He also doesn’t have any injury concerns. He’s played in at least 123 games in each of the past six seasons. Donaldson just turned 34 and had back-to-back injury-plagued campaigns before signing with the Braves. Giving him four to five years carries far more risk than signing Ozuna long-term if he thrives in Atlanta.
More than anything, this one-year contract keeps the Braves options open in the middle of their championship window, which is crucial. Ozuna should provide the boost they need this season, and by the time Pache and Waters are ready, he can move onto greener pastures. Or, if the Braves decide they want to keep Ozuna around as apart of their core, they can trade Pache or Waters for another piece that can help them in their World Series aspirations. I know some Braves fans are tired of one-year deals, but this could not have worked out better for Atlanta.