The Braves are returning home to face the World Series champion Astros after a 5-1 road trip over Kansas City and San Diego. Atlanta is arguably the hottest team in baseball, winning eight of their last nine games and sitting in first place in the NL East at 14-5.
The club is looking as well-rounded as ever. The lineup is deep and features three of the most feared batters in the league at the top, while the rotation is finally getting healthy. Spencer Strider and Max Fried look the part as Cy Young candidates early on, and the bullpen has been nearly unhittable despite missing two of its biggest contributors.
All is good in Braves Country… except for one piece of the squad — Marcell Ozuna.
The lumbering Dominican was already fans’ least favorite player before the season because of his off-the-field issues and lack of production on the diamond. Now, it’s become nearly unbearable.
Ozuna is hitting a putrid .085 in 54 plate appearances and has somehow accrued a -0.7 WAR in just 14 games, which seems almost unfathomable. He might be getting more boos at home than on the road lately. Every time the lineup card is released, it is met with a shower of hate and calls for him to be designated for assignment, and though I agree his play warrants the Braves parting ways with him, the time isn’t right for a few reasons.
Firstly, it is only April, and the Braves have the second-most wins in the MLB. Outside of a rare occurrence in Wednesday’s game against the Padres, the offense hasn’t been an issue. Ronald Acuna Jr., Matt Olson, and Austin Riley have been unbelievable with the stick for the most part. Sean Murphy is providing much more than initially anticipated. Ozzie Albies has turned it on, and the club is even getting help from some unlikely sources like Sam Hilliard and Kevin Pillar.
Offense isn’t the problem. The Braves team ranks fourth in all of baseball in runs, third in home runs, and fourth in hits. It’s okay if there is one black hole in the lineup. Now, if it were June or July and the Braves were struggling to put runs on the board, I would fully support the notion to DFA Ozuna tomorrow. I still wouldn’t be opposed to doing it now, but I understand why there remains some hesitation.
The sample size for this season is minuscule. There was a point where I thought he was turning the corner, hitting .299 with three homers and an .860 OPS over his last 20 games in 2022. Ozuna also followed that up with a promising Spring Training, hitting .315 with six doubles and a homer over just 18 games. Though he’s been struggling mightily, it’s only been 14 games, which is far too early to cut ties completely. He needs at-bats, leading to my next point.
Brian Snitker is going to play Marcell Ozuna against lefties. The Braves are dealing with a myriad of injuries and don’t have the luxury of benching The Big Bear. Even then, what is benching him going to do? If he’s on the roster and it’s not a do-or-die situation, the club might as well play him in hopes he can hit out of this slump.
There might be a less complex answer as well:
Ozuna is 30 days away from 10 yrs of MLB service & being fully vested in the MLB pension plan.
“But Boggy, he’ll make over $118M in his career. Why would the pension matter?”
10 yrs is a huge deal for veteran players & teams will sometimes do what they can to get them there. https://t.co/9CMQr8jWf6
— Knockahoma Nation (@KnockahomaNTN) April 18, 2023
If the Braves aren’t going to give him at-bats, it’s probably best for all parties that he is designated for assignment. However, the team doesn’t really have that option right now because of all the injuries they have suffered.
Ozuna has put together some better at-bats lately and has run into porous luck on some hard it balls. There remains some hope he could look much better over the next couple of weeks, and if he doesn’t, his time in Atlanta will almost certainly be over. Once Michael Harris and Travis d’Arnaud return from the IL, there will be no justification for keeping Ozuna in the lineup. But right now, he will likely continue to see opportunities against left-handed pitchers.
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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