Marcell Ozuna is the latest player to benefit from signing a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves.
In 2018, they inked starter Aníbal Sánchez to a $1 million contract. He revived his career by posting a 2.83 ERA over 25 games and cashed in by signing a two-year, $19 million deal with the Nationals the following offseason. The following year, Josh Donaldson joined the club on a one-year, $23 million agreement and hit 37 home runs to earn himself a four-year, $92 million contract with the Minnesota Twins.
This time, it’s Ozuna looking for the major payday after a prove-it year in Atlanta. He joined the Braves on an $18 million deal for the 2020 season and responded by leading the National League with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs to go with a .338 average and a 1.067 OPS over 60 games. It was a breakout season for the Dominican native, setting himself up for a hefty payday this offseason.
Yet, there was one aspect of his game that wasn’t forced to undergo much scrutiny: his defense. Ozuna played 39 of his 60 games at DH, added to the NL just for the 2020 season to give teams more flexibility while trying to field a roster during the pandemic. Major League Baseball reportedly informed teams earlier this winter that they should proceed as if there won’t be a DH in the NL next year, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of the league coming to an agreement with the players union to bring it back.
Ozuna’s defensive limitations are well-documented. He’s accrued 20 errors since 2016, tied for the third-most among outfielders over that span. The Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved metric, which attempts to quantify how many runs a given player accounts for on defense more or less than average, pegs Ozuna at -1 runs since the 2019 season began — a span of 1,274 innings spent in the outfield.
If the Braves, or any other NL team interested in Ozuna, are serious about signing the 30-year-old slugger, they will likely have to swallow his defensive limitations for at least the 2021 season. Braves Radio Network reporter Kevin McAlpin joined NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast for an NL East roundtable. He talked about Ozuna and why he believes the Braves could still make a run for him.
“The Braves signed him to play left field,” McAlpin said. “They didn’t sign him to be a DH. The DH was sort of a bonus for Ozuna who was not necessarily known for his defense anymore. But look, with there being questions [of], ‘Will there be a universal DH or will there not?’ I don’t think that would prohibit the Braves from bringing him back even if there isn’t a universal DH. They really like him and I think the thought is, ‘He would win you more games with his bat than he could potentially cost you with a couple of missed plays in the outfield.’”
With MLB’s collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2021 season, a universal DH could be installed as early as 2022 even if the league reverts back to traditional NL/AL rules for next year. If Atlanta signs Ozuna to a long-term deal, that could very much come in handy as he gets into his mid-30s.
However, the Braves are still contenders for Ozuna even without the DH in the plans for 2021. He was a major component to their offensive success last year and a reunion between the two sides remains in play with the calendar set to turn to a new year in just a few days.