Ever since Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins, the Braves’ focus has shifted towards the outfield, which might actually make the most sense. In my recent breakdown of Atlanta’s current roster, I point out that while Donaldson departed, third base is nowhere near the Braves’ biggest hole. The combination of Austin Riley and Johan Camargo won’t be as valuable as the Bringer of Rain, but it shouldn’t be too drastic of a dropoff, especially if Riley looks more like the player that he was right after his promotion. What Atlanta needs to patch up the most is their corner outfield situation. Acuña will be just fine in right field, but a Markakis/Duvall platoon isn’t going to cut it for a team that has championship aspirations. Luckily, of the two remaining free agents that are worth a damn, both play left field.
Atlanta has been linked to Marcell Ozuna since the beginning of the offseason, and more recently are believed to have interest in Nick Castellanos. Today, Jon Heyman of the MLB Network reported that the Braves like both, and that a decision will likely be decided based on what they will command.
Braves still seek a middle of the order bat to replace Donaldson, with Ozuna or Castellanos being seen as the most likely options. They like both bats and are said likely to ultimately decide based on the deal.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 21, 2020
First off, it’s worth noting that pretty much none of Alex Anthopoulos’ moves have been foreseen, so I wouldn’t count anything out, even standing pat. However, it does make a helluva lot of sense.
Anthopoulos has been hesitant to deal away any top prospects, and the only two worthwhile free agents remaining just happen to fill the Braves’ most apparent need. What it will probably come down to is the length of the deal.
Clint broke down the comparisons between Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos last week. At their core, they are two very similar players at about the same stage in their respective careers. Both provide around 25 homers a year; Castellanos might be the better all-around hitter, but Ozuna makes up for it with a much better glove. Each would be a significant upgrade over the Markakis/Duvall platoon the Braves are facing right now, which would also help improve Atlanta’s bench. So it’s no surprise they are looking at deals in the same ballpark, but whoever is willing to take the shorter-term contract is probably going to be who ends up with the Braves.
There are two primary reasons Atlanta is more interested in shorter-term deals, even if it means a higher AAV: given the financial restraints placed on the organization by Liberty Media, they cannot afford to risk handing out contracts that could potentially hamstring them during their championship window. The Braves also don’t want to block out one of their best prospects – Cristian Pache or Drew Waters – for long. Both of them might be ready as early as 2020 but are definitely on track to be in the majors by 2021.
Fangraphs projects Ozuna and Castellanos to each land four-year contracts, with Ozuna settling for somewhere between $60-70 million, and Castellanos signing for around $55 million. I’d expect them to earn something very similar, but judging by how long it is taking for them to be signed, I’d be surprised if many teams are offering four years, and I’d be shocked if the Braves were among them.
If Atlanta is going to sign either of these guys, it probably won’t be for more than three years. They want to keep their options open, and at that length, moving them in a trade would be easy to do if Pache and Waters are deemed ready. Going any further than that would be too much of a risk, and if Anthopoulos wasn’t willing to do it for Donaldson, it’s unlikely he does so for Ozuna or Castellanos.