Braves should “throw things at the wall and see what sticks” in left field

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The Braves have had and could continue to have a quiet offseason. The roster doesn’t have many holes outside of a shortstop, which will dominate news cycles all winter. Negotiations with Dansby Swanson will be the focus of Braves Country this offseason, and if the two sides move on, the focus will shift to what’s next at the position? Alex Anthopoulos could sign a marquee free agent, trade for a replacement, or turn to a combination of Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia. However, a situation of the club that hasn’t been discussed as much is left field.

The Braves currently have two options under contract to play the position — Eddie Rosario and Marcell Ozuna. Both players were a supreme disappointment in 2022, combining for nearly -3.0 WAR as two of the worst players in baseball, which is just an absolute travesty considering where they were a short time ago.

Rosario’s performance against the Dodgers in the 2021 NLCS against the Dodgers was otherworldly. He had 14 hits (.560 average), three home runs, and nine RBIs in 25 at-bats, winning MVP honors for that series. And he was rewarded with a two-year, $18 million contract. During the shortened 2020 season, Ozuna challenged for the Triple Crown. The Big Bear posted a .338 average, 18 home runs, and 56 RBIs, culminating the campaign with a sixth-place finish in the NL MVP race. He was rewarded with a lucrative four-year, $65 million deal following the 2020 season. But neither player has come close to warranting those new deals.

Off the field, Ozuna has been a mess for the past two years, and on it, he’s been equally abysmal. He accrued a -0.6 fWAR, which is crazy considering he blasted 23 homers. Ozuna is on the wrong side of 30 and is a liability in the field, even if he still possesses elite power. What’s even crazier is Rosario was somehow worse. Vision issues hampered the start of his season, boasting a batting average under .100 for a time, which is almost impressively bad. And after surgery, he wasn’t much better. Rosario was a zero in the field and in the box.

Given the Braves’ needs and their payroll situation, it’s very possible Rosario and Ozuna are on the 2023 Opening Day roster; in fact, I’m here to argue it could be the best outcome for the Braves. Atlanta isn’t going to sign some marquee free agent outfielder with a massive hole at shortstop. Sure, AA would love to rid the books of Ozuna and Rosario’s contracts, but it’s going to be nearly impossible to move Ozuna, and Rosario’s market isn’t much better. Both would need to be attached with prospects to move, which wouldn’t be the course of action I’d take. I propose the Braves throw as many options as they can at the problem until one sticks.

Run it back with Ozuna and Rosario while adding one or two cheap free agents; Adam Duvall and Robbie Grossman are examples. If nothing else, Duvall is a significant upgrade over the current prospects in the field; he’s a Gold Glove outfielder and provides enough power to be a plus in the box. The club was obviously fond of Grossman when the Braves acquired him, and he did experience a bit of a resurgence when he joined Atlanta. Still, it’s not the sexiest solution to the problem, and that’s the point.

The method of “throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks” is about having as many options as possible in hopes at least one pans out. If the Braves have Ozuna, Rosario, Duvall, and Grossman platooning left field all season, one is bound to turn into at least an average player. And with a lineup as potent as Atlanta’s, that’s all the team needs. The Braves don’t need an All-Star in left field to accomplish their ultimate goal. But if those options aren’t working, there are also other internal candidates.

The Braves could always stick Vaughn Grissom in left field if they re-sign Dansby Swanson or acquire another shortstop. He took the league by storm for about a month after being called up but came back to earth to end the season, which isn’t a knock. After all, Grissom began the year in High-A ball.

With Manny Piña set to return this year, William Contreras is a possible candidate to fill the outfield void as well. He’s athletic enough to be an outfielder, and it’s not like Ozuna and Rosario are otherworldy defenders.

And then there’s the young stud on the farm, Justyn-Herny Malloy, who is one of the organization’s top prospects. Over three levels in 2022, Malloy had 17 homers and a whopping .408 on-base percentage. In 133 games, he accumulated 97 walks. That’s absurd, and he could potentially experience a similar promotion as Michael Harris II and Grissom.

On the surface, there’s no ideal situation, but the Braves have enough options in their organization currently that they should be able to figure things out over the course of a 162-game season. If not, they can always make adjustments at the trade deadline.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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