Braves Buy Low on Ozuna
After losing out on Josh Donaldson -- after the star slugger decided to sign a four-year contract with the Twins rather than re-upping to remain in Atlanta -- the Braves replaced his potent bat in the middle of their lineup by inking former Cardinals’ outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million contract.
The deal is only a hair more than the one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer that Ozuna turned down from the Cardinals at the outset of the offseason. Since he did receive that qualifying offer, the Braves will also have to forfeit their third highest draft pick in June’s draft (pick 99 overall), while the Cardinals will gain a compensation pick after Competitive Balance Round B (pick 71 overall).
Ozuna was a force for the Marlins in 2017, slashing a robust .312/.376/.548 with a career-high 37 homers and 124 RBI. However, in his two seasons with the Cardinals, he hit just .263/.327/.452 with a combined 52 homers and 177 RBI over the two seasons.
The 29-year-old slugger will look to rebuild his market value on his one-year pact with the Braves -- similar to what Donaldson did last season before striking it rich in free agency this time around.
Braves’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos believes that Ozuna can certainly return to his 2017 form, telling reporters on Tuesday, “He ran into some bad luck last year… We think there’s a lot more in there. We think he can rebound to the season he had with the Marlins in 2017.”
Ozuna will slot in as the Braves’ everyday left fielder. He’s likely to bat cleanup in the Braves’ lineup, which puts him in an absolutely premium RBI spot hitting behind Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman.
As far as his fantasy value goes, this is certainly a favorable landing spot for Ozuna. In the last two weeks prior to this signing, he had been going off of NFBC draft boards on average at pick 111 overall. I’d anticipate with this move that he’ll creep up closer to pick 100, or perhaps just inside it.
What’ll be interesting to see is how much Ozuna runs with the Braves in 2020. They’re known for being a team that likes to be aggressive on the bases, and Ozuna is coming off a 2019 season where he swiped a career high 12 bases (in 14 attempts), after only stealing 14 bases in 25 total attempts during the first six seasons of his big league career.
Ozuna’s signing will also take at-bats away from Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall -- as the duo was set to platoon in left field prior to this move. It’s possible that they’ll still platoon in right field, but don’t forget that Ender Inciarte is in the mix as well fighting for at-bats. Not that any of the three were highly sought-after fantasy commodities, but this move lowers each of their draft stocks considerably.
Cooperstown Welcomes Jeter and Walker
As expected, Yankees' legend Derek Jeter was officially elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The only question heading into the announcement was whether or not he would join longtime teammate Mariano Rivera as the only unanimous selections in history.
The Captain was included on all but one of the 347 ballots that were cast (99.7%), giving him the highest vote percentage for any position player in history -- besting Ken Griffey Jr. who received 99.3% of the vote in his first season of eligibility.
While it’s not yet known which voter decided not to include Jeter on his ballot, Jeter admitted Tuesday that he “couldn’t care less” about the snub. Speaking with MLB Network after the announcement became official, Jeter took the high road, explaining, “I look at all the votes that I got… It takes a lot of votes to get elected in the Hall of Fame. Trying to get that many people to agree on something is pretty difficult to do, so that's not something that's on my mind. I'm just extremely excited and honored to be elected.”
The sixth overall selection from the 1992 draft, Jeter played all 20 seasons of his big league career with the Yankees, never playing any position other than shortstop. He was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, was a 14-time All-Star selection, five-time Gold Glove winner and five-time Silver Slugger award winner. He was also a five-time World Champion, a World Series MVP and All-Star Game MVP.
Jeter finished his career as a .310/.377/.440 hitter. He tallied 3,465 hits during his big league career -- the sixth highest total of all-time. He ranks 11th in MLB history with 1,923 runs scored.
During his illustrious career, Jeter appeared in 158 postseason games -- nearly a full season’s worth. During that time, he slashed .308/.374/.465 with 20 homers, 61 RBI, 111 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. On the game’s biggest stage in the World Series, he hit .321/.384/.449 with three homers, nine RBI, 32 runs scored and four swipes in 38 games.
While Jeter getting elected on Tuesday was a foregone conclusion, Larry Walker’s chances looked much more bleak. He gained significant traction in recent years -- rising from just 10.2% of the vote during his fourth season on the ballot -- to 54.6% in 2019, creeping within striking distance entering his 10th and final season of eligibility this year.
Still, Walker himself tweeted out Tuesday morning, “Although I believe I’m going to come up a little short today I still wanna thank all you that have been pulling for me and showing your support. I’m grateful for all of you! It’s been fun leading up to today reading everyone’s thoughts. Cheers LW”
Ultimately, Walker just crept in over the 75% threshold required -- appearing on 76.6% of the ballots, which was six more votes than he needed to earn enshrinement. His 22% increase over last season’s total represented the largest gain by any player in his final season of eligibility in the 65 years of voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Walker becomes the first player inducted into the Hall of Fame to have played a game for the Colorado Rockies. In fact, playing 9 ½ seasons at Coors Field became a major point of contention among voters over the years, as some believed his offensive numbers were overly inflated in Denver’s thin air, while others attempted to use modern statistical formulas to normalize his production.
Walker spoke with MLB Network on Tuesday after he received the call and explained his gratitude, “I get the arguments. Trust me, I’ve heard them all. I’ve heard the good things, I’ve heard the bad things. I’m OK with both of them. There’s negativity to everything. I’m good taking it. I can handle it. I’m a big boy and I can take all that stuff. But 76.6 percent of the writers didn’t think that way, so I’m as grateful as I can be.”
He also becomes just the second Canadian-born player -- and first position player -- to be elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Ferguson Jenkins.
In his 17 big league seasons, Walker slashed a monstrous .313/.400/.565 with 383 home runs, 1311 RBI and 230 stolen bases. He was named the National League MVP in 1997 when he hit a ridiculous .366/.452/.720 with a league-leading 49 long balls, 130 RBI, 143 runs scored and 33 stolen bases.
Walker was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger award winner. He also won three National League batting titles in 1998, 1999 and 2001.
Jeter and Walker will join Ted Simmons and Marvin Miller who were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December.
Here’s a look at how the full voting finished (2019 total in parentheses)
Derek Jeter - 99.7% (1st year on ballot)
Larry Walker - 76.6% (54.6%)
Curt Schilling - 70.0% (60.9%)
Roger Clemens - 61.0% (59.5%)
Barry Bonds - 60.7% (59.1%)
Omar Vizquel - 52.6% (42.8%)
Scott Rolen - 35.3% (17.2%)
Billy Wagner - 31.7% (16.7%)
Gary Sheffield - 30.5% (13.6%)
Todd Helton - 29.2% (16.5%)
Manny Ramirez - 28.2% (22.8)
Jeff Kent - 27.5% (18.1%)
Andruw Jones - 19.4% (7.5%)
Sammy Sosa - 13.9% (8.5%)
Andy Pettitte - 11.3% (9.9%)
Bobby Abreu - 5.5% (1st year on ballot)
Paul Konerko - 2.5% (1st year on ballot)
Jason Giambi - 1.5% (1st year on ballot)
Alfonso Soriano - 1.5% (1st year on ballot)
Eric Chavez - 0.5% (1st year on ballot)
Cliff Lee - 0.5% (1st year on ballot)
Adam Dunn - 0.3% (1st year on ballot)
Brad Penny - 0.3% (1st year on ballot)
Raul Ibanez - 0.3% (1st year on ballot)
J.J. Putz - 0.3% (1st year on ballot)
Taking a quick glance at this list, it looks like Curt Schilling with another big step forward in 2020 should gain the 75% required to earn election into the Hall of Fame next season. The future doesn’t look as promising for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds who didn’t gain much momentum in their eighth season on the ballot. Both will need to hope that there’s a very real faction of voters who are simply holding them off of the ballot until their 10th attempt in order to make them sweat it out. PED’s or not though, both players belong in the Hall of Fame.
It’s also encouraging to see the momentum for Omar Vizquel, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield and Todd Helton. With no surefire first-time Hall of Famers on the ballot in 2020, there should be plenty of room for some of these players to take another meaningful step forward toward induction. At this stage, the likelihood of Vizquel eventually getting in appears particularly high.
American League Quick Hits: Andy Martino of SNY.tv reported Monday that the Astros were interested in ESPN broadcaster Eduardo Perez for their sudden managerial vacancy. Perez was then brought in for an interview on Tuesday… The Astros interviewed Dusty Baker for their managerial vacancy on Monday, while Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston reports that former Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister will interview for the Astros' managerial job this week.… The Orioles signed Cesar Valdez to a minor league contract… The Orioles have extended a formal invitation for prospect catcher Adley Rutschman to attend major league spring training… Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that Jason Varitek "seems to be more willing to consider managing this time around."... The Blue Jays re-signed Pat Cantwell to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training… The Athletics inked veteran backstop Carlos Perez to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp… Dustin Pedroia suffered a "significant setback" with his left knee and his availability for spring training is questionable… The Red Sox sent Bobby Poyner outright to Triple-A Pawtucket… The White Sox signed Adalberto Mejia, Jaycob Brugman, Matt Skole and Drew Anderson to a minor league contracts with invitations to spring training… The White Sox sent Dylan Covey outright to Triple-A Charlotte.
National League Quick Hits: The Braves signed former American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the 33-year-old hurler will earn $1 million if he makes it to the big leagues with the Braves… David Wright confirmed to Jon Heyman of MLB Network that he has no interest in managing the Mets… Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich on Monday indicated that Nolan Arenado will not be dealt prior to spring training and trade talks involving the third baseman are off for now. Nolan Arenado said Monday that he has felt "a lot of disrespect" from the Rockies' front office. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, Nolan Arenado's frustration with the Rockies is rooted in the team's inactivity this offseason.… Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Marlins, Cubs, Rangers, and Brewers are "believed to be among the teams with some interest" in free agent reliever Pedro Strop… Yadier Molina said Monday that he would like to continue playing after his contract expires following the 2020 season, perhaps for two additional years… Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said Monday that the team could possibly discuss a contract extension with Jack Flaherty during spring training… Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that Mets quality control coach Luis Rojas looks like the current favorite to be the team's new manager… According to SNY's Andy Martino, the Mets' managerial search is down to Luis Rojas, Hensley Meulens, and Tony DeFrancesco… The Giants signed veteran southpaw Jerry Blevins to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training… The Phillies signed former Nationals’ closer Drew Storen to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. The right-hander will earn $750,000 if he makes the big league roster… The Brewers sent Jake Faria outright to Triple-A San Antonio… Jameson Taillon (elbow) has begun his throwing progression, though he’s still unlikely to return until late in the 2020 season… Roberto Ramos is headed to the LG Twins of the Korea Baseball Organization… The Cubs acquired Travis Lakins from the Red Sox for a player to be named later or cash considerations… The Phillies signed veteran right-hander Bud Norris to a minor league contract… The Giants signed Rob Brantly to a minor league deal with a big league camp invite… The Giants also claimed Luis Madero off of waivers from the Angels while designating Jake Jewell for assignment… The Mets re-signed Rene Rivera to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.