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Ozuna signs 1-year deal with Braves, to play LF

@mlbbowman
January 21, 2020

ATLANTA -- It seems fitting that Marcell Ozuna will be used to replace Josh Donaldson. Like Donaldson last year, Ozuna will come to Atlanta intent on restoring his market. The Braves announced they signed Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million contract on Tuesday night. This move comes exactly one week

ATLANTA -- It seems fitting that Marcell Ozuna will be used to replace Josh Donaldson. Like Donaldson last year, Ozuna will come to Atlanta intent on restoring his market.

The Braves announced they signed Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million contract on Tuesday night. This move comes exactly one week after it was announced Donaldson had agreed to a four-year deal with the Twins.

With Donaldson’s departure, the Braves had a middle-of-the lineup void that will be filled by Ozuna, who hit .263 with 52 homers and a .779 OPS for the Cardinals over the past two seasons. The 29-year-old outfielder is just two seasons removed from having belted 37 homers with a .924 OPS for the 2017 Marlins.

“He ran into some bad luck last year,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “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 serve as the Braves’ everyday left fielder, and for now, Anthopoulos is committing to Ronald Acuña Jr. being the team’s only other everyday outfielder. So manager Brian Snitker will have to decide how to best utilize Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall, who had been projected to platoon in left field. Duvall will come to camp with a non-guaranteed contract. But with the new rule of a 26-man roster, there still could be room for these outfielders.

Markakis could occasionally spell Ozuna in left field or Acuña in right field. But when facing some left-handed starters, it may make more sense to use Duvall in right field and have Acuña play center field in place of the lefty-hitting Ender Inciarte.

“We have time,” Anthopoulos said. “I’m sure Snit will have that all ironed out by March 26.”

When Donaldson opted to sign with the Twins, some wondered if the Braves would replace him by trading for another power-hitting third baseman, either the Cubs’ Kris Bryant or the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado. But there was not much interest in Bryant and there has been doubt about the likelihood of Arenado being traded.

So the Braves shifted their focus toward acquiring an outfielder. Johan Camargo will most likely begin the season as Atlanta’s third baseman. Austin Riley could fill that role once he proves he is ready to produce at the Major League level.

Because Ozuna received a qualifying offer, the Cardinals will receive a compensation pick after Competitive Balance Round B (No. 71) and the Braves will forfeit their third-highest selection (No. 99) and $500,000 of international slot money.

Thoughts of Ozuna ending up with a one-year deal might not have seemed realistic at the start of the offseason. But being attached to the qualifying offer -- combined with the fact he was just a slightly better than average hitter (107 OPS+) over the past two years -- created this opportunity for the Braves, who were hesitant to enter a long-term deal that would block either of their top outfield prospects, Cristian Pache and Drew Waters.

Ozuna tallied 29 homers while producing an .800 OPS for the Cardinals during last year’s regular season and then produced a .954 OPS over 39 postseason plate appearances. He hit two homers during St. Louis’ loss to Atlanta in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

There are certainly reasons to anticipate a rebound for Ozuna, who according to Statcast produced a higher average exit velocity (91.8 mph compared to 90.7 mph), higher expected slugging percentage (.548 compared to .519) and hard-hit rate (49.2 percent compared to 45.2 percent) this past year than he did in 2017.

With this short-term deal, Ozuna will be looking to follow the path paved by Donaldson, who had 37 homers and a .900 OPS after signing a one-year, $23 million deal with the Braves last winter.

“This was just another chance to add another big power bat,” Anthopoulos said. “The focus wasn’t on getting an outfielder or a cleanup hitter. Our focus is just getting good hitters and good players.”

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