Ozuna market contingent on universal DH

October 16th, 2020

led the National League in home runs, RBIs and total bases this year. After his two homers in the Braves’ 10-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 4, he’s also among the candidates to be named Most Valuable Player of the NL Championship Series.

And, by the way, Ozuna will be a free agent after the season.

The Braves would love to retain Ozuna, who turns 30 next month, but it’s impossible to know the years and dollars they will offer him in free agency.

One reason for that: Ozuna has made the majority of his starts this year as a designated hitter. NL clubs -- including the Braves -- don’t know if they’ll have the DH for 2021 and beyond.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have yet to determine whether there will be a DH in both leagues next year. Such a decision is likely to be formalized near the end of the World Series, in order to allow general managers to make fully informed decisions on qualifying offers.

Notably, Ozuna won’t be eligible for a qualifying offer this offseason, after he rejected one from the Cardinals last winter. Ozuna also turned down a multiyear free-agent contract from the Reds before signing a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. (Ozuna’s $18 million salary was subsequently prorated over the 60-game regular season.)

MLB and the MLBPA agreed on a universal designated hitter this season, because of competitive and health considerations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Surely, Ozuna is among the players who hope the rule change will remain in place permanently. Now that he’s shown he can produce brilliantly in that role, an increased number of teams needing a DH would drive up Ozuna’s market value.

The Braves have learned that the presence of a DH has dramatic effects on the lineup. Freddie Freeman said in a recent interview that having a position player batting ninth, instead of a pitcher, has allowed him to bat second this year. Freeman has responded to that role with MVP-caliber numbers during the regular season and playoffs -- all with Ozuna batting behind him as protection.