In case you missed it, Major League Baseball announced Marcell Ozuna‘s punishment on Monday, handing him a 20-game retroactive suspension. Since Ozuna has already served that time on administrative leave, he’s cleared to resume playing on Opening Day in 2022.
This creates quite the pickle for the Braves. On the one hand, Ozuna could fill a massive hole in the outfield or as the DH. On the other hand, allowing him to continue playing in Atlanta could create a massive PR nightmare that the Braves would love to avoid while coming off the high of winning their first World Series since 1995. I imagine Alex Anthopoulos will attempt to trade him, but if nothing comes to fruition, he’s most likely going to be playing for the Braves next season, whether fans like it or not. Ozuna’s owed $53 million over the next three seasons, and I doubt the Braves just bite the bullet on that. So hypothetically, what does the outfield now look like in Atlanta with him back in the picture?
Ronald Acuna might not be ready for Opening Day. I’m not going to count it out, but regardless, he will be the team’s primary right fielder in 2022. Acuna can also play some center, but I highly doubt that’s where the Braves want him regularly now that he’s coming off a torn ACL.
After that, it is anybody’s best guess. The Braves did make a decision yesterday on Adam Duvall, tendering him a contract, so he will be on the roster in 2022. The Gold Glover played center field for the Braves in the playoffs, and it’s possible we could see him spend some time there again in 2022, but I believe the plan is to have him play left field opposite Acuna for the majority of the season.
So, where does that leave Ozuna? Obviously, the days of him playing center field are long gone. He’s a defensive liability at this point in his career. For that reason, if the Braves hang onto him, I see him filling in as the DH on most days. That leaves one opening for Anthopoulos to fill before the end of the offseason, centerfield.
While two of the Braves’ top prospects — Cristian Pache and Drew Waters — could occupy centerfield, I don’t expect either of them to begin the season in the majors. In fact, I think both could use a full year in Gwinnett before the Braves give them an opportunity, so expect the Braves to acquire a centerfielder via a trade or free agency before the start of the 2022 campaign.
Of course, there is another course of action Atlanta could take. If the Braves feel comfortable with either Acuna or Duvall in centerfield permanently, it gives them more options in free agency. They could roll with Ozuna as their left fielder and sign a DH like Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, or Nelson Cruz. This is definitely plausible; however, under the circumstances, I believe the Braves will be more focused on finding another player who can play centerfield.