Like Josh Donaldson before him, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos signed Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, prove-it contract, and it paid substantial dividends. Ozuna was arguably the offensive MVP for the Braves, leading the National League in home runs, RBIs, and total bases — putting Anthopoulos in a very similar situation to the one he was in last offseason
The Braves made the right decision regarding Josh Donaldson, holding out until the very end but ultimately deciding to let him walk after the Twins offered him four years with a fifth-year option. Despite being fantastic with the Braves in 2019, Donaldson came with an extensive injury history and was on the wrong side of thirty. That came back to haunt the Twins in his first season with them, as he only played in 28 games and was left off their postseason roster. Now, Donaldson will be 35 next season, and his performance isn’t likely to improve as he ages.
Ozuna has some red flags, but they aren’t similar to Donaldson’s. He’s played in at least 123 games in every season since 2014 and did not miss a game with the Braves in 2020. Ozuna’s also four years younger than Josh Donaldson was when he received his contract. However, you cannot bring up those points without also bringing up the fact that his track record isn’t nearly as pristine as Josh Donaldson’s, and he’s a severe liability on defense at this point in his career. The latter isn’t as important if the DH makes its way over to the National League permanently; however, if it doesn’t, it’s certainly something the Braves will have to take into consideration. But regardless, Ozuna is in for a massive payday — one that Anthopoulos might not be willing to match.
I think a somewhat comparable comp to Ozuna this offseason is Nick Castellanos last offseason. Now, you might be thinking, “Chase, Castellanos hit .225 this year with a -0.2 bWAR. How could he possibly be comparable to Ozuna?” That’s true. If the two were both getting paid this offseason, Ozuna would receive probably double that of Castellanos. However, that’s not the case.
Castellanos cashed in last offseason after a season in which he hit a much more respectable .279 with 27 homers and a ridiculous 58 doubles, and it was over the last 51 games — after he was traded to the Cubs — that he made his money. With Chicago, he slashed .321/.356/.646 with a 1.002 OPS and then hit the open market. That’s much more comparable to Ozuna’s recent stretch, and they both are negatives defensively.
You also might remember that Ozuna was rumored to turn down a 3-year/$50 million contract with the Reds — the same team that landed Castellanos for 4-years/$64 million. This isn’t the perfect comp, and I believe Ozuna to be the far superior player. Still, Castellanos clearly got overpaid after a hot stretch, and the market may be much cooler this offseason because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.
There’s undoubtedly a possibility that somebody overpays Ozuna and gives him a similar contract to what Donaldson received last offseason, and he could receive even more money. If that happens, you can kiss Ozuna goodbye and remember him for the fond memories he brought the Braves in 2020.
I would probably expect Anthopoulos’ top offer to be somewhere in the 4-year, $80 million range. Perhaps he goes a little higher and offers him somewhere around $21-22 million AAV, but I would be shocked if he went any higher than that, and he might not even go that far.
It’s a tricky situation because it’s only a 60-game sample size, and Ozuna’s last two seasons with the Cardinals weren’t nearly as impressive. If he did it over 162 games, we’d probably be talking about a contract in the $100+ range. I think the Braves can get this done, but it definitely will take some commitment Anthopoulos has yet to show to a free agent during his tenure as Atlanta’s GM.