Josh Donaldson is now off the free agency market, meaning the Braves have to pivot, and rather quickly, in efforts to find a cleanup hitter – third baseman or not. While many assume Atlanta will pursue Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado via trade, others believe the Braves may prioritize outfielders that won’t require giving up top prospects, like free agents Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos.
Both players are similar, guys who can offer some pop in the middle of a lineup but are not viewed as assets with the glove. Although Castellanos is a much worse defensive player than Ozuna has ever been. But today, we will simply focus on Marcell Ozuna, and what a Braves offer to him could look like.
Atlanta fans have seen a ton of Ozuna firsthand. He spent the first five seasons of his career down on South Beach with the Miami Marlins. And after a career year in 2017, the Cardinals sent Zac Gallen, Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, and Daniel Castano to the Fish for his services. Last season, Ozuna appeared in his first career postseason series against the Braves, and torched them out of the 5-hole, going 9-for-21 with three doubles, two homers and five RBIs en route to an NLDS victory.
Ozuna is no Josh Donaldson, but he would help fill the middle of a lineup that is now searching for answers after Donaldson’s decision to move to the Twins. But how much is he looking for, and how much is he worth to the Braves?
MLBTradeRumors predicted Ozuna to receive a 3-year/$45 deal this offseason, and that is likely a fair price given his talent level, which the basic eye test will tell you exceeds what the stat sheet may suggest. Although, Fangraphs predicted something more like four years and $60-70 million. On top of that, Ozuna has expressed his desire to sign at least a four-year contract earlier this offseason. To me, The Braves should not go any further than three years for several reasons, like age and an already clogged outfield group, but they could add a few million per season to fatten up the deal a bit.
But when you boil it down, there are two primary things to consider here: the Braves’ plethora of long-term outfield options, and the savings they would receive in this theoretical contract compared to signing Donaldson.
Signing Ozuna to any deal could seriously alter the Braves’ plans in the outfield going forward, but it would give them a plethora of options. If they go this route, Austin Riley would likely stay at the hot corner, giving the Braves Ronald Acuna Jr. until 2027; Ender Inciarte for two more years, with an option for 2022 as well. They control Adam Duvall for three more years and have Nick Markakis under contract for 2020. But then you look at the young talent. Atlanta also has Drew Waters, Cristian Pache, and Trey Harris all creeping up the pipeline, and blocking them makes little sense.
With that being said, the savings from signing Ozuna as opposed to Donaldson, and the logjam in the outfield, would position the Braves to make another move, perhaps for Kris Bryant. In terms of contract dollars, they could have both for a hair more than what Donaldson will receive per year. The Braves can package a young position player, who is now blocked with Ozuna in the fold, with some pitching, and Ender Inciarte, which is reportedly what the Cubs are searching for in return.
In other words, signing Ozuna to a three-year deal makes a ton of sense if the Braves are willing to spend the money to make an additional move on the trade market, building the most dynamic offense in the National League. However, if this is the last move in the works for Atlanta, it may make sense to give a one-year deal to a guy like Yasiel Puig, who can provide similar production in the short-term, and allow Drew Waters and Cristian Pache to ease into everyday roles by 2021. Of course, you can always deal Ozuna as well, but his mild inconsistency throughout his career at least has a chance to complicate that option.
Regardless, the Braves need a cleanup hitter, and if they are not willing to trade any of their prized prospects at this time, it’s simply a toss-up between Ozuna and Castellanos as to who will be the best fit. They will have to get one or the other for their lineup to be a shadow of what it was in 2019.