The whole situation surrounding Marcell Ozuna is disgusting, and while baseball isn’t the most important aspect of the altercation, the Braves are going to have to start thinking about life after Ozuna. If these accusations are true, I don’t think he should, or will, ever play baseball professionally ever again. However, this situation will get tough for the Braves, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
Under the MLB’s joint domestic violence policy, enacted in 2015, only two of the 13 players suspended were sentenced for crimes (one of them being former Brave Hector Olivera). The longest suspension has been given to Sam Dyson, who was suspended for 162 games — the entire 2021 season. Marcell Ozuna signed a massive four-year, $65 million contract this past offseason that is back-loaded. The money is guaranteed, so while suspensions for domestic violence are unpaid, the Braves will still owe the rest of that guaranteed money to Ozuna after his suspension ends. The Braves had to trade Olivera to the Padres and take on Matt Kemp‘s $22.5 million over three seasons to get his money off the books. Rosenthal had an interesting tidbit about how the Braves could possibly argue that Ozuna’s contract should be void, and I expect them to take that route:
“The Uniform Player Code in baseball says that a team can terminate a contract if a player shall ‘fail, refuse, or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship … it also allows a team to terminate a deal if a player shall ‘fail, refuse, or neglect to render his services … in any material manner that may breach this contract”
Since I’m working on a law degree, I have a tad bit of insight into breach of contract. Ozuna could technically not perform his duties if he was to go to prison, because he wouldn’t be able to play baseball. In Georgia, aggravated assault carries a minimum of one year in prison and a maximum of 20 years for a basic sentence. However, Ozuna is likely to cut a plea bargain to reduce his charges. We’re a long ways away from that. Still, there are more issues present.
Teams, in addendums to the UPC outlining specific prohibited activities, sometimes include convictions for criminal acts. But the union has long viewed such guarantee language and other addendums as unenforceable because they are not collectively bargained, sources say. And the sport’s domestic violence policy, which establishes the blueprint for penalties for such matters, would appear to take precedence over the UPC’s reference to “the standards of good citizenship.” The policy does not list the voiding of a contract as a potential form of discipline.
No team has ever attempted to terminate the contract of any of the 13 players previously suspended for domestic violence, knowing that efforts to convert guaranteed money to non-guaranteed money in other situations have rarely resulted in anything more than partial success.
However, there is some power in favor of the Braves. Since the officers on the scene witnessed what Ozuna did, his wife cannot drop the charges against him. His suspension from Major League Baseball also would not begin until he is reinstated from the injured list. The legal process and the MLB’s investigation will take a long time, and the Braves should be able to place him on the restricted list and withhold his pay until then.
Still, it appears that once those timeframes are finished, the Braves are unfortunately, very likely to owe Ozuna the rest of the money on his contract.