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Inbox: What's next for Braves after Ozuna deal?

Beat reporter Mark Bowman answers questions from fans
@mlbbowman
January 24, 2020

Now that the Braves have signed Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal, there’s a better feel for how the roster might look on Opening Day. But there are some remaining questions, five of which have been addressed in this week’s Inbox. **Would you have offered Josh Donaldson what

Now that the Braves have signed Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal, there’s a better feel for how the roster might look on Opening Day. But there are some remaining questions, five of which have been addressed in this week’s Inbox.

Would you have offered Josh Donaldson what the Twins did?
-- @channa_789

As some of you likely know, my biggest problem with the designated hitter is the unfair advantage it gives to American League teams with free agents. It was much easier for the Twins to offer Donaldson four years and $92 million knowing they can occasionally rest him in the DH role over the next couple seasons, then use him that way on an even more regular basis during the latter portion of the agreement.

Would I have given Donaldson $21 million annually over the next four seasons with the realization there’s a good chance I would be eating the $8 million buyout attached to the $16 million option he received for 2024? Possibly. I’d say there’s certainly a chance I would have taken the “what the heck?” approach as time elapsed. But I would have been less inclined to do so knowing Ozuna might be willing to take the one-year, $18 million deal.

Last week, I wrote that two years from now, you might still be regretting not signing Donaldson, but then four years from now, you might consider yourself fortunate to have not done so. With the addition of Ozuna, the Braves have restored some of the lineup’s power potential with yet another talented player who will be motivated while playing with a one-year deal.

At the same time, the Braves’ bench is now much stronger. Maybe Ozuna won’t match Donaldson’s offensive production, and maybe Johan Camargo or Austin Riley will occasionally remind us of how good Donaldson was with the glove, but Ozuna is likely going to give you 25-plus homers and Camargo is an above-average defender.

Maybe you’re not as good at third base this year. But if playing the maybe game, you have to at least question whether Donaldson would be as good as he was last year. And if he's not, you would be weaker at third base and in left field, where I’m quite certain Ozuna can trump what the Braves would have received had they stuck with the plan to platoon Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall.

By my math, the Ozuna signing is gonna keep Charlie Culberson off the roster. Do you see the same, and do you think he will hang out in Triple-A and wait for an injury to open a spot like Adam Duvall did last year?
-- @jowens510

Not necessarily. Here are the 13 position players I would project to be on the Opening Day roster: Travis d'Arnaud, Tyler Flowers, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Johan Camargo, Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte, Ronald Acuña Jr., Nick Markakis, Adam Duvall, Adeiny Hechavarría and Charlie Culberson.

With this arrangement, Hechavarria and Culberson would be the only backup infielders, unless you’re counting Markakis’ ability to play first when necessary. Accounting just for the players in the system, it would be in the team’s best interest for Austin Riley to thrive during the early portion of the season at Triple-A and gain the opportunity to become the starting third baseman. This would provide power potential at third base and strengthen the bench with the addition of Carmargo’s versatility. At that point, Culberson could be the odd man out.

Who do you think wins the third-base job? Camargo or Riley? Why?
-- @murraySZNN

I guess I gave you my answer with the previous question. The reasoning is quite simple. Everybody would love to see Riley show up and hit .450 with seven homers during the Grapefruit League season. But as we all know, you should never allow yourself to be fooled by Spring Training stats. In Riley’s case, you’re talking about a guy who was either injured or looking lost over last season’s final three months. He’s an extremely talented player with legit power. It would be in his best interest to spend at least a few weeks at Triple-A to restore confidence and find a groove before once again becoming an everyday part of Atlanta’s lineup.

What are the chances A.J. Minter makes the team out of Spring Training?
-- @FoxHollowFilms

I’d say the odds of Minter being on the Opening Day roster are slim, and this further highlights how much the Braves' bullpen has improved over the past 12 months. At this point last year, we knew Arodys Vizcaino’s right shoulder was likely going to be a problem, so we were projecting Minter and possibly even Chad Sobotka as candidates for the closer’s role.

As we sit here right now, it’s hard to find a spot for either of these two relievers within the eight-man bullpen that will include Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day and Luke Jackson. If Jacob Webb is indeed healthy, he could fill one of the other two spots. They’ll likely want to throw another lefty in there, but unless Sean Newcomb makes a real good impression as a starter during Spring Training, I think he would be deemed a better option than Minter, who could join Sobotka, Patrick Weigel and a few others as valuable depth options at Triple-A Gwinnett.

Are the Braves done for the offseason?
-- @VinceDacus

I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to make any additions before the start of Spring Training. But when you look at their surplus of arms, you have to wonder if they’ll use it to address a need or at least gain value while filling another team’s need before the regular season starts. In other words, they’ll get a better feel for what they have before making a move. You certainly don’t trade depth just because you have a surplus.

If Félix Hernández is healthy and comes to camp in shape, he could fill a rotation spot until Ian Anderson or Kyle Wright is ready. This would likely push Newcomb back to the bullpen and erase the potential need for another left-handed reliever.

As for those wondering if the Braves will add another starting pitcher, I think this is something they would be more likely to address in June or July after getting a chance to evaluate just what they need in that department.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.