Atlanta Braves Sign Marcell Ozuna

In what has been really busy offseason that saw a dead period for about a month, it’s now picked up steam again as the Atlanta Braves signed Marcell Ozuna to a 1 year, $18 million deal.

Who is he?

As a 28 year old in 2019, Ozuna put up a .241/.328/.472 line, with 29 homers in 485 at bats for the Cardinals. He missed over a month recovering from fractures in his 3rd and 4th fingers suffered diving back into 1st base on a pickoff, limiting him to 130 games. He was credited with 2.2 bWAR, derived entirely from his offense.

Ozuna had one outstanding season in Miami in 2017, putting up a .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers, but mostly he has hung around his career averages of .272/.329/.455, and in the 20’s in homers. He spent most of 2018 battling shoulder pain, culminating in surgery in October of that year. At 29, Marcell is not a good bet to match Josh Donaldson‘s 2019 numbers in 2020, but the 34 year old Donaldson is no lock to do so either. Ozuna is a good bet to put up his career averages, in which case, the Braves should not notice too much drop off from what Donaldson will produce.

What’s the Impact?

Ozuna will slot into left field, leaving Ender Inciarte and a Nick Markakis / Adam Duvall platoon to fight for playing time alongside Ronald Acuna Jr. Ozuna is not a well regarded defensive player. If the 29 year old Inciarte can overcome back and hamstring issues and return to his previous defensive levels, Inciarte in center and Acuna in right make the best compensation for that fact. In either case, 3rd outfielder does not scream out as a position of advantage relative to playoff competition. (5th outfielder looks really good, which is not nothing.)

According to Dave O’Brien, “This pushes the #Braves’ current payroll to between $145M and $150M, which would be easily the largest opening-day payroll the team’s had.” This makes it unlikely to me that the Braves are planning any further big moves without moving some payroll, and therefore the Braves plan to roll with Johan Camargo, and ultimately, Austin Riley at 3rd base. Both are young players with upside. The Braves love Nick Markakis; we will most likely find out if Inciarte and/or Duvall have any trade value.

Also from DOB, the Braves will give up their 3rd-highest draft selection next summer (99th overall pick.)

Assessment of the Signing

The Braves are coming off a 97 win season with no excuse not to make a run at 2020. However, with a young core of MLB talent, and Cristian Pache, Drew Waters, and a pipeline of young starting pitching approaching the majors, only the ticking timeline of Freddie Freeman defines the Braves window for the first half of the decade. The Ozuna signing puts them in the ballpark of the 2019 offense without blocking Pache, Waters, or Riley, or tying up payroll for 2021 and beyond.

The Braves will need Dansby Swanson, Camargo, and Riley to ride up the aging curve, and McCann+ contributions from Travis d’Arnaud to make up the rest.

Thanks for reading the piece on the signing of Atlanta Braves Marcell Ozuna. If you enjoyed this piece, check out this piece on extending Dansby Swanson.

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Author: Rusty S.

Rusty S. is a Braves Journal reader since 2005 and an occasional innings-eater. It was my understanding that there would be no expectations.

47 thoughts on “Atlanta Braves Sign Marcell Ozuna”

  1. JC’d

    JonathanFsays:

    January 22, 2020 at 2:14 am Edit
    Glad you asked, Nick. The answer is not to fill the holes you know you have, but the ones you had no reason to expect to have. The simplest example (though cheapest to deal with) is the bullpen. Two or three of the Braves bullpen are going to suck… we just have no idea which two or three. So it’s something you can’t address in January. Similarly, which Brave requires a huge move because of injury? Nobody knows. And you don’t want to be in the position where a bad year from any particular resource dooms the team, even one you were nominally counting on.
    Of course (if this is where you’re going) with enough resources you just plug the known holes now and plug the new ones later. But the Braves don’t act as if they have that level of resources. (I know not what they have, only how they act.)

    … And I’m not saying 85 percent is the right value… maybe 93 percent. But the basic point is that you’re almost always willing to pay something to wait for the resolution of uncertainty to make your decisions… and the more uncertainty the more you’re willing to pay.

  2. JC’d

    Alex Remington

    I was completely wrong. I never thought the Braves would get just about the last quality free agent left. Ozuna is essentially the hitting version of Hamels and they got him for the same contract, and he allows them to do the same thing: he’s a two-to-three-win player who replaces bench production.

    Stu’s right about this deal; it’s an unambiguous win with very little relative risk, and it’s in keeping with the Braves’ public statements about when they think Pache and Waters will be ready, in their refusal to add an extra year.

    I was always pretty nervous about Ozuna when he was a Marlin. Looks like last year he had some horrible BABIP luck; per Statcast, his exit velocity and hard-hit percentage were both great. (Statcast also says his most similar batters for 2019 are Freddie Freeman, J.D. Martinez, and Austin Meadows.)

    I personally discounted Ozuna this off-season because I think I lumped him in with Castellanos, a much more lopsided player whose terrific bat is offset by a DH-caliber glove. Ozuna is just a very solid player who is likely to resemble a bargain-bin Justin Upton: a fine hitter and average defender who may frustrate us by not being a star, but who will be well above average for a remarkably affordable cost in dollars and years.

    Finally, this indicates something about AA: he’s decisive and aggressive in a way I’m not used to. He makes moves I’m not expecting. Frank Wren was a tinkerer, making tons of bench moves. Thoppy makes splashes. Who ever expected the Braves would get this many top-50 free agents in a single off-season? When was the last time we did that, if ever?

    The more I think about it, the more I’m into it. This was a big win.

  3. I think this Braves team is better than last years, albeit marginally, and here’s why:

    hamels>keuchel and we get him for a whole season not half a season

    the entire bullpen is improved from opening day last year. luke jackson is the only guy that’ll be in the pen from last opening day.

    ozuna to donaldson is a loss, but you have to think of it in terms of total gain. this gets markakis out of the lineup so you’re gaining ~2 war there and then the riley/camargo platoon will get you about 3 war. Donaldson would’ve been about 5, so this roughly evens out.

    D’Arnaud>mccann (slightly)

    I see the offense as being about the same overall with a MUCH better bullpen and a slightly improved rotation, especially if one of the prospects has a fried or soroka like impact this year.

  4. I suspect that with the current roster, we would see an everyday OF lineup of Ozuna/Acuna/Markakis. I just don’t see Snitker playing it any other way. Maybe he will surprise me, but I doubt it.

  5. I see Ender in CF, with Acuna in RF and Ozona in LF, to least to start, with Acuna playing CF at time and Neck, Duvall getting reps.

  6. I know Keith Law and I is a dead horse, but man, I just don’t get how he goes from excellent analysis to weirdly subjective comments so quickly. What does “a disappointing outcome for a player who deserved more years and more money” mean? Deserved? Did I miss the memo that we’re supposed to start feeling sorry for players who overplay their market and end up with much less late in the game? Were tears shed for Keuchel and Kimbrel? Not mine, and I don’t remember many (if any) others. I’m happy for the players who get their big deals, but I don’t think players who overplay their market “deserve” any more. It’s business. Get better market analysis.

  7. I would think that Ender is healthy. And he played 150+ games the two seasons before this past one, and he’s been able to give a nagging hamstring injury a very long time to heal. I would perplex me greatly if we traded Ender Inciarte, our best option for terrific centerfield play right after we sign a subpar defender, so we could play Nick Markakis 130 games against RHP. And if they do that at all to cut payroll after heading towards their highest Opening Day payroll, then shame on them.

  8. My thoughts on the OF:

    Braves are going to trade Ender. I know….I know. I’ve been saying this for years, but I really think it happens this year. Ender is getting paid 7.7MM in 2020 and 8.7 in 2021. With Pache available as soon as June, the Braves would be running the risk of paying Ender in 2021 to be, at best, a part-time player.

    Also, I know there are skeptics, but I don’t think the Braves are done adding. My source thinks that the Braves are still in on Bryant and even to the point where there are 2 separate deals on the table for 1 or 2 years of control (seriously, move on with the grievance hearing). And while this hasn’t been mentioned, it could be in the Braves interest in any deal for Bryant to grab Almora in return to be a late-inning defensive replacement.

    Could you imagine this lineup with Kris Bryant in it?

  9. Great write-up on the Ozuna deal is up on Fangraphs. Seems Ozuna had the biggest gap between Statcast-implied (expected) production and actual production of any player in 2019. But it might not just be luck: they link to a piece from a Cardinals blog which theorizes that his swing has a “slice” to it that causes pulled balls to wander towards the deeper part of the ballpark in center and makes his flyballs travel shorter than expected in general.

    Interesting stuff to consider here about how Statcast metrics only capture so much (leaving out spin rate of the batted ball, for instance), and that we shouldn’t always wave away deviations from expected and actual production as “Babip luck.”

    Either way, I hope we get a full year of the monstrous version of Ozuna that terrorized the Braves in the NLCS last year. Seemed like he hammered everything that whole series.

    The Fangraphs article: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/marcell-ozuna-is-headed-to-atlanta/

    Birds on the black article: https://www.birdsontheblack.com/post/marcell-ozuna-has-a-slice

  10. Continuing on JonathanF’s stuff on how to play the “don’t get everything solved at the beginning, but get pretty close and have some room to maneuver after you know what maneuver to make.”

    One important thing in having a good team is to not suck. The Braves of the rebuild / tank / face plant / chaos (whatever you want to call it) actually could have been mediocre and fringy competitive for a wild card if they could have replaced all of the negative WAR people and some of the .5 to 1 WAR people. Those things kill you.

    Currently, this roster, in full depth of 40 man plus additional upper minors prospects, has a lot of “suck protection.”

    The another part of utilizing this strategy is “how likely are we to beat projections versus miss projections?” The 2.1 WAR projection from ZIPS at 3B can be up 1 a lot easier than down 1. Why? Although I think we have seen peak Camargo, he could rebuild to 90% of 2018 Camargo. If Camargo tanks, there is a chance that Riley improves against the off speed enough to be a 3 WAR (prorated) 3B. If both tank, then that is where the move will be made. As to starting pitchers, we have 4 and 5 covered. Multiple prospects can prevent suck there. Also, there is a chance that Wilson or Wright or Anderson comes in as a 3 WAR pitcher. As to catcher, you have 3 guys in the system who might be able to carry Major League backup.

    Another thing to consider is how much future WAR can we control? For the Cubs and the Red Sox, if they don’t go for it, their controlled assets are leaving and getting more expensive and their pitchers are old, expensive, and breaking down. But if they don’t put in more, they may have a shot at a wild card. At that point on the curve, waiting it out is almost a surrender. In pitching, the Braves have vast future WAR. Same with catchers. Same with outfielders. Maybe same at 3B. Right now, 1B, 2B, and SS all look a little thin (if you don’t add anybody and the first guy goes down, it looks ugly).

    Another thing is that FO probably WANTS to move some of our pitching surplus in the upper minors. Most of them have potential to “pop up” a little this year. And deadline deals for pennant contenders are almost always trades FOR current production and trades TRANSFERRING future production. So, you have the right currency if you are the 2020 Braves. If you don’t have the currency, it is harder to justify “wait and see.”

  11. I hope the Braves do trade Ender. Never had a WRC+ above 100 in a Braves uniform and projects as a mediocre defender after last year. No reason to pay a guy that much to block Pache and Waters next year.

  12. IMO it’s wishful thinking to believe that Markakis is going to be riding the pine. With the current roster, unless Markakis is just horrid he is going to be in RF on a regular basis. The best you can hope for is a platoon with Duvall. Inciarte is CF insurance because there is no one else until Pache is ready, and there is no way Pache breaks camp with the big club regardless of how he performs in the spring (see Acuna, Ronald). I’m not advocating this, it’s just how I think it’s going to go.

  13. @16
    The thing about CF insurance is insurance shouldn’t cost 8 million dollars. There’s CF insurance like Billy Hamilton that could be had for 1 MM.

  14. my first thought is that the starting OF will be Ozuna (7), Acuna(8) and Markakis (9), with Inciarte coming in as a defensive sub for either of 7 or 9 and Acuna sliding into the vacated corner spot.

    Also, what are the implications for the bench? Projections currently sit with Camargo, Hech, Flowers, then Duvall, Culberson and Inciarte/Markakis fighting for the last 2 bench spots, gotta imagine this means the last of Culberson, which is sad, but we’ve all seen much worse than that, this also makes me smile.

  15. Markakis is perfectly fine when used properly. Last year he was .298/.371/.446 against rightys. Sure you would like more SLG, but if you are getting power elsewhere you can live with it. The big problem is that he really sucks against LH pitching, and so far Snitker hasn’t platooned him.

  16. @18/20

    The only thing ‘wrong’ with Nick Markasis is the way he has been grossly mismanaged by Snit in terms of rest. Every year at this time we discuss this and every year nothing changes. So the following winter produces the usual get rid of him chorus. The baby and the bathwater – you cannot play this game when you are physically tired much of the time. It is a skill managing an older player through 162 games – he probably should start in less than a hundred of them. We should hold Snit accountable if he falls out of this routine again. Were he to maintain this discipline we would have one our finest Braves, a consummate professional, a clutch producer, available, fresh, when we can then use him at his most productive. Not rocket science.

  17. Talking about Rocket Science…

    We should arrange the sale of the Braves to Elon Musk – Bill Veeck as Rocket Man. Ted Turner reincarnate. Around opening day he is due to deposit safely his first astronauts to the Space Station, live – as it were. An obvious way to celebrate/capitalize /cash in on all this would be an appearance at home plate the next day.

    He is a huge egotist, very impulsive and devil-may-care. My kind of guy and I shall write him this week. No more wet caving for him – apple pie and baseball, back to basics.

    Seriously, it makes sense. Stock is up fivefold. Rio Ruiz Park will thankfully retain its new name. Until it becomes TeslaTowers.

    You think i’m kidding don’t you. Beware. Impulse is a beautiful thing. Pander to it.

  18. DOOM! The signing of a star outfielder must mean the team plans to play the 4th outfielder all the time! Really guys, when the team makes positive moves to spend the money you claimed they would never spend, you could at least wait until they do something bad before starting the naysaying. If Neck has 70 at bats by the end of April, go ahead and moan all you like but can we enjoy the moment until then?

    Note: I actually used the word snowflake before reconsideration. All is forgiven Sam!

  19. I’ve not been accused of being a “doom”er too often, so I’m glad I’m earning the distinction because of my concern over Nick Markakis. Yes, if he gets 75% of the PAs against RHP and not many (if any) against LHP, then I will be quite happy. But while we don’t know who exactly fills out the lineup card at the TeePee, we know it’s not Brian Snitker. Hopefully Snit takes it over and puts his foot down.

    But consider this. Nick isn’t the only LHB to hit RHP well. Ender, for his career, hits .289/.342/.409 against RHP. Not as good as Markakis, sure, but coupled with his centerfield defense, Ender is the superior player. Does it fail the cost analysis? Probably, but that’s not the discussion we’re having.

    If it meant getting Markakis’ playing time heavily diminished and also guaranteeing the best outfield configuration was set, anyone can call me a snowflake. Hit me in the face with snowballs, for that matter.

  20. Rob, agree to disagree re: @8, but my basic feeling is that I can both root for my team to get a great deal on a good player, and also empathize for a player who’s getting paid less than he’s worth for what he does on the field.

    For example, Mike Moustakas was clearly underpaid over the last couple of years in Milwaukee. Did he screw up his negotiations? Was he just stuck with some bad luck in the offseason musical chairs, and forced to take what he could get two winters in a row? I don’t really know. I just kinda feel for the guy.

  21. You are correct about Moustakas. The guy has made just under $42 million for his 9 year career so far. I don’t know how he’s been able to survive on such paltry wages. Seriously, I know ballplayers have a unique talent, but I don’t think I will ever feel sorry for anyone making that kind of money. If he can make more, good for him, but there are a lot of people with very unique talents that are doing jobs that no one else wants to do or can do and are barely getting paid anything.

  22. Well, that’s a broader conversation. If you don’t think any entertainers or athletes should be millionaires, I respect where you’re coming from, but I come from the point of view that people deserve to be compensated appropriately compared to people who do what they do.

  23. I don’t think Keith is saying Marcell Ozuna deserves more than his market value, I think he’s saying that if there were 30 teams that were trying to win the World Series, Marcell Ozuna would be making more money.

  24. I did not have you in mind, Rob. I just find it humorous that posters would respond to a team move that both takes payroll way above what they keep telling me is possible and takes plate appearances AWAY FROM NICK MARKAKIS with complaints about how much they expect the 4th outfielder to play.

  25. @29 – I know it’s a much broader conversation and I don’t want to open a huge can of worms. Fact is that it’s not so much that we value entertainment too much, it’s the fact that the entertainment in the form of baseball is broadcast to a national and international market and it’s a great form of escape for millions. I don’t have an issue with this. I know there are many ballplayers that are underpaid based on their assumed market value, but there are also many that roll the dice and are way overpaid. I just find it hard to feel sorry for anyone that makes more than $400,000 per year in any field. If they can get more, great, and they should try, but I don’t think it’s owed to them just because others are making it.

  26. I empathize, even sympathize, with Ozuna not getting the big contract. I just don’t think he “deserved” more, that’s all. But, alas, “no politics” rule is being violated, so I shall digress.

  27. At this point, fair or otherwise, I’ve come to assume that Keith Law is looking to imply that the owners are looking to screw the players at every turn. I simply cannot think of a sports writer who is as political as Keith Law. In fact, I’d really like to read another sports writer who does what Law does just to see if it comes off the same way, so examples would be appreciated.

  28. @ 35,

    Craig Calcaterra has almost the same political views as Law and seems to express them about as frequently. Calcaterra is probably even more in favor of the working class of the MLBPA against the “billionaires” than Law (Calcaterra had a law career in labor law before becoming a full time sports writer).

    Law’s chats are way worse than his reporting. If he gets a question like “Is Trump the biggest idiot ever to be President?” he always picks that out of the pile and says something like “Of course, and anybody who doesn’t agree with that is a bigger idiot of no moral worth.”

  29. So yeah, Keith and Craig both have political views which I won’t characterize or discuss. When it comes to whether a player deserves to be paid, I pretty much always come out on the side of wanting a guy to make money. It ain’t my money, and I hope he’d want the same for me.

  30. If you had a peek at the owner’s books, you’d definitely fall on the side of the players.

    That said, I don’t have sympathy for anyone earning more than $500K a year, but I believe in the laws of economics. There’s only a handful of elite baseball players in the world and they deserve to be compensated accordingly.

  31. I don’t think even Snitker would bench one of our 3 projected starters for Markakis. Now, he might use him a lot to spell Acuña, Ozuna, and even Freeman at first base a good bit. But that may be a good thing since Snitker has a bad habit of not giving his horses enough days off.

  32. It’s not about Ender or Markakis…the answer is neither. They can’t be more than bench players this season. Please AA. I’m begging here.

  33. Re Jeter…

    In an interview this week he was asked about the pressure he felt, in the clutch, was he ever afraid of choking?

    His reply was totally disarming. ‘Never felt it. When I had a bat in my hand I always imagined I was back at school, playing with my friends.’

    The highest compliment you can pay this guy is you found yourself believing him.

  34. We’re in the money, honey, keep ’em both. No begging, please!

    If you are able to show we can’t have both, the Nick must stay.

    But you don’t want that either, right? ! Cheers.

  35. AA saying that if a deal is available that will help this team, $ won’t be an issue. While I believe him, I also feel like there should be an * beside that statement as we know good and well that he’s not going to commit a ton of future $ to a player (with exception maybe being Arenado, of which I highly doubt).

    This statement continually leads me back to Kris Bryant.

  36. @45 which I am totally ok with…provided they make a deal based on whatever the outcome of his case is

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