Ozuna re-signs with Braves

February 6th, 2021

After a pair of underwhelming seasons in St. Louis (107 OPS+ from 2018-19), bet on himself prior to the '20 season, signing a one-year, $18 million free-agent deal with the Braves. It's safe to say Ozuna re-established his market value (and then some): He nearly won the National League Triple Crown after leading the Senior Circuit with 18 homers and 56 RBIs, to go along with a .338 average and a 1.067 OPS. Now, Ozuna is likely to command a much more lucrative multiyear deal.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the outfielder/designated hitter, who turned 30 on Nov. 12.

Braves re-sign Ozuna to four-year deal

Feb. 5: The Braves re-signed Ozuna to a four-year, $64 million contract with a fifth-year club option of $16 million or a $1 million buyout. The return of Ozuna ensures the middle of Atlanta's lineup, which includes the man Ozuna protected in the batting order last year, reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman, will remain intact for 2021. More >

Morosi: Braves are 'the favorite' to land Ozuna

Feb. 5: The universal DH is on ice for 2021 (at least for now), but that might not be dissuading the Braves from pushing for a reunion with Ozuna. MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported on MLB Network Friday morning that Atlanta continues "to be the favorite" to sign the top free-agent slugger still available.

"The Braves, right now, have the best chance to sign him," said Morosi. "The short-term deals that [president of baseball operations] Alex Anthopoulos has always sought -- whether it's Josh Donaldson or Ozuna himself last year -- seem to likely fit here."

Reports have circulated that Ozuna is seeking a multi-year deal -- including the latest from SportsGrid's Craig Mish, in which he says it "will be a multi-year deal for Ozuna once final" -- but Morosi speculates that Ozuna might not ultimately find that offer out there, given his primary strength as a DH. Mish also added that Ozuna's market is "moving forward" and that the Rays "appear to be among [the] final teams involved." Morosi noted Friday that Tampa Bay hasn't signed a position player to a multi-year deal since inking James Loney to a three-year contract in 2014.

The Braves could still be waiting to see whether MLB and the MLB Players Association can negotiate the universal DH into the 2021 season, but in the meantime, there is still an Ozuna-sized hole in their potent lineup from last season. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud appears to be the most likely incumbent candidate to fill the cleanup hole behind Freddie Freeman for Atlanta, but Freeman credited Ozuna's ability to protect him in the lineup as a major reason why he went on to win the NL MVP Award.

Ozuna stated toward the beginning of the offseason that he wanted to be viewed as an outfielder instead of a DH, though his prior misadventures on the grass has made that a tough pill to swallow for potential suitors. Still, the Braves are projected to get bottom-10 production in both center field and left field from defensive specialists Ender Inciarte and Cristian Pache, and so there could be some incentive for Atlanta to bring back Ozuna's bat and live with his outfield defense.

"He played a credible enough corner outfield that he actually started a third of the Braves' games as an outfielder," Morosi notes of Ozuna. "So they have some comfort with him in the outfield and they can work with him potentially on positioning. ... They need another bat, and the biggest bat out there is someone they know very well."

Cruz returns to Minnesota (source); could Rays get involved with Ozuna?

Feb. 3: With Nelson Cruz reportedly returning to the Twins on a one-year deal, could we see further clarity develop in Ozuna's market?

Minnesota was a reported landing spot for Ozuna as a sort of "Plan B" for the Twins after Cruz as recently as Tuesday, before Cruz and Minnesota agreed to terms later that day. With the universal DH seemingly on hold for 2021 (at least for now), Ozuna will either need to convince an NL club that he can play the outfield every day (as was his stated intention near the start of the offseason) or find an AL club that is looking to fill a void at DH.

The latter option could be easier said than done; the AL's traditional big spenders like the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees all seemingly have internal candidates lined up for the DH spot, and AL clubs have shifted more toward treating the position as "by committee" and having players rotate through DH at-bats instead of assigning the spot to one full-time slugger. However, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports that the defending AL champion Rays have taken a look at Ozuna.

Heyman later added that this could be a mere check-in on the Rays' part, and a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that Ozuna's asking price may need to come down in order for Tampa Bay to become seriously involved. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times echoed that sentiment.

The Rays might also need to make some maneuvers to get Ozuna full-time at-bats. Tampa Bay has one of the Majors' strongest defensive outfield units penciled in with postseason hero Randy Arozarena in left field, Kevin Kiermaier in center and Manuel Margot in right. It also has slugger Austin Meadows projected to receive the bulk of at-bats at designated hitter, with Yoshi Tsutsugo also limited to a mostly 1B/DH role. The Rays could install Ozuna at DH and move Margot to a fourth outfielder role. There's also still the possibility that they trade an outfielder; Kiermaier has been mentioned often in trade rumors since the start of the offseason.

Twins could consider Ozuna as 'Plan B' after Cruz

Feb. 2: Ozuna's market has stayed fairly quiet in recent weeks, and the fate of the universal designated hitter continues to be unclear. On Monday, the Players Association rejected MLB's proposal to delay the start of the regular season and reduce the schedule to 154 games, meaning the season will currently begin as scheduled on April 1 but will not feature the universal DH. However, MLB and the MLBPA could still negotiate the universal DH into the playing rules before Opening Day.

While Ozuna waits for final resolution there, he does appear to be generating some interest from AL clubs. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reports that the Twins could be considering Ozuna as a backup option if they somehow don't reach an agreement with Nelson Cruz, as is widely expected.

Olney: Braves 'highly unlikely' to bring Ozuna back

Jan. 17: Ozuna bet on himself with the one-year contract he signed with Atlanta last year, and now he's ready to cash in on the winnings of his outstanding 2020 season. But per ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required), the Braves are "highly unlikely" to re-sign the star slugger. Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos has generally steered clear of large multi-year contracts for veteran free agents in recent years, and Ozuna is almost certainly hoping to sign for more than one year this time around. There is also the continuing uncertainty as to whether the NL will operate with the designated hitter this year.

Report: NL teams involved in Ozuna sweepstakes

Jan. 13: Ozuna's mighty bat might be proving too tempting for NL teams to dismiss, even when there is still no guarantee that the Senior Circuit will have the designated hitter position this year. MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reports that both American League and NL teams are checking in with Ozuna's camp, with some clubs even expressing that they would be OK with Ozuna playing left field full-time.

Actions will speak louder than words in regard to whether NL teams actually extend serious offers to Ozuna before a final resolution on the DH is reached. But if Morosi's report holds true, that would be excellent news for the slugger as his market expands and competition increases. NL clubs such as the Braves and Nationals could use Ozuna's pop in their lineups, so long as they are comfortable with playing him in a corner outfield spot.

With Riley staying at third base, is Ozuna still an option for Braves?

Jan. 11: The Braves are more focused on adding a left fielder than a third baseman and expect Austin Riley to open 2021 as their starter at the hot corner, a source told MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi.

The free-agent market is saturated with quality outfielders, including George Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr., Michael Brantley, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Jurickson Profar and Adam Duvall, who was non-tendered by Atlanta in December.

There’s also Ozuna, though it’s unclear if Atlanta is still mulling a reunion with the slugger, who made 39 of his 60 starts as the Braves’ designated hitter last season. The universal DH isn't currently in place for 2021.

Granted, when the Braves signed Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal last January, they didn’t know the NL would have a DH as part of the COVID-19 protocols in 2020. So at one point, they were comfortable with Ozuna as their starting left fielder.

Ozuna's departure leaves a huge void in the Braves' lineup, as he finished 2020 with a .338/.431/.636 slash line, 18 homers and 56 RBIs. Meanwhile, Atlanta has watched the National League East-rival Mets get considerably better this offseason, re-signing Marcus Stroman and adding Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, James McCann and Trevor May.

This team is a great fit for Ozuna

Dec. 26: MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince sums up the best fits for each remaining free agent from the top 25, doling out only one free agent per team. He says the Mariners are a great fit for Ozuna, especially given that teams have reportedly been told to expect no DH in the NL in 2021. The Mariners have some financial flexibility, and could use a power hitter who crushes lefties.

These 5 teams could be Ozuna's best fits

Dec. 25: Finding the best free-agent fits for Ozuna is an interesting task, because his no-doubt elite bat is balanced by questions about whether his defense will push him into a designated-hitter role.

So what teams make the most sense? The Athletic's MLB reporters came up with a list of five (subscription required) -- the Braves, Mets, Blue Jays, Giants and Rockies.

The Braves-Ozuna reunion is obvious -- signing Ozuna paid huge dividends for Atlanta in 2020, as he was an MVP contender for the NL East champs. But the Braves' longtime division rivals, the Mets, could also be a landing spot, especially if the Mets miss out on top free agents like George Springer and Trevor Bauer and can't swing a trade for Francisco Lindor or Nolan Arenado. Ozuna and Pete Alonso would give the Mets a dangerous middle of the order.

Moving to the AL, the Blue Jays have a DH spot to offer Ozuna and would be adding an established veteran slugger to their young lineup of rising stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

As far as the Giants, Ozuna would help San Francisco cement its offensive improvements in 2020. And who wouldn't want to see Ozuna crushing home runs at Coors Field in a Rockies uniform?

Perez: Ozuna sees himself as an outfielder, not a DH

Dec. 9: Just about everyone has Ozuna penciled in as a DH for 2021 after he nearly won the NL MVP award in that role for the Braves. But Ozuna himself doesn’t see it that way.

“He told me, ‘I don’t consider myself a designated hitter,” ESPN’s Eduardo Perez told MLB Network Radio on Wednesday. Perez spoke with Ozuna a few weeks ago and says the star hitter still wants to prove himself as a defender.

Ozuna’s adventures in the outfield with the Cardinals in 2018-19 were well documented. His throwing arm was severely limited by shoulder injuries that necessitated surgery, and he also had trouble judging balls near the outfield fences.

“He told me, ‘Look, my arm is a lot better,’” Perez recalled hearing from Ozuna, “‘but I don’t have to have a great arm from left field. What I have to do is be able to charge the ball well, get better jumps and now I understand that.’”

Part of Ozuna’s willingness to position himself to teams as an outfielder could stem from the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the DH in 2021. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Wednesday morning that NL clubs have “been told to work under the assumption they will have no DH next season,” but at the same time there’s still an expectation that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association will hammer out an agreement to reinstall the DH in the Senior Circuit before Opening Day.

Either way, Perez notes that Ozuna is only four seasons removed from winning his only Gold Glove Award in 2017, his last campaign with the Marlins, and argues that it could be worth the risk of signing Ozuna to man the outfield -- if only for one year.

“If it’s for a year, and if you’re an organization and you take a gamble in saying, ‘Maybe next season there won’t be a DH, but after the collective bargaining agreement, there could be one,’” said Perez, “and you sign him to that four, five or six year deal, now you have yourself an outfielder that you already know can transition to a DH if you need him to in the next couple years.”

Sources: Giants, Blue Jays interested in Ozuna

Dec. 2: The Giants are among the teams with interest in Ozuna, sources told MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, though San Francisco’s pursuit may depend on whether the National League has the designated hitter in 2021.

According to Morosi, the Blue Jays are also eyeing the slugger, but they appear to have George Springer above Ozuna on their free-agent wish list.

Ozuna made 39 of his 60 starts as the Braves’ DH in 2020, a year in which he led the league in homers (18) and RBIs (56) while hitting .338 with a 1.067 OPS.

For the NL to have the DH again in 2021, it would need to be collectively bargained between MLB and the MLB Players Association.

San Francisco got surprisingly strong production from its outfielders in 2020, ranking fourth in MLB with an .862 OPS, but the club posted baseball's fourth-lowest OPS (.596) at the DH spot.

Toronto was even better in the outfield, ranking third in OPS (.873), while Rowdy Tellez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. split time between first base and DH. But that evidently hasn't prevented the team from showing interest in Springer and Ozuna.

What was Ozuna's motivation in hiring new representation?

Nov. 23: CAA Sports announced Sunday that it has signed Ozuna, who was previously represented by MDR Sports Management. CAA also represents catcher J.T. Realmuto, another top free agent.

According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), Ozuna was upset he hadn't received any offers yet, prompting the switch. Although Ozuna played only 21 games on defense in 2020, his former agent, Melvin Roman, was marketing him as a left fielder and seeking a $100 million contract for his client, Rosenthal notes.

This is the second time in the past two years that Ozuna has changed agencies. He joined MDR in May 2019. MDR negotiated Ozuna’s one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves last January.

Ozuna reportedly had multiyear offers on the table before signing with Atlanta, but he opted to bet on himself with a one-year contract that gave him the opportunity to test free agency again this offseason without being tied to Draft-pick compensation. The decision worked out, as the slugger led the National League in homers and RBIs.

There's been some speculation that Ozuna could wait for a decision to be made regarding the designated-hitter rule in the NL. The league used the DH in 2020 as part of the pandemic-related rule changes, but keeping it for '21 and beyond would need to be collectively bargained between MLB and the MLB Players Association.

If the NL retains the DH for 2021, it could effectively double Ozuna's free-agent market. However, it doesn't seem as though he wants to wait to strike a deal.

Ranking Ozuna’s likeliest suitors

Nov. 20: Despite his defensive limitations and the uncertainty surrounding the designated hitter in the National League, Ozuna is drawing widespread interest already, with MLB Network insider Jon Heyman recently reporting that as many as 10 teams were in the mix.

MLB.com’s Will Leitch looked at Ozuna’s market Friday and ranked some of his potential suitors. In Leitch’s view, the Braves are leading the race. See who else made the list. More >

Could Astros replace Springer with Ozuna?

Nov. 18: George Springer is one of the major reasons why the Astros have been a perennial contender since 2015, but his tenure in Houston could be over. Count MLB Network insider Jon Heyman among those who don’t think the Astros will re-sign the free-agent center fielder this offseason.

“I think he’s as good as gone,” Heyman said on this week’s episode of the Big Time Baseball podcast.

Houston reportedly has been eyeing free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. as Springer’s potential replacement in center, but the 30-year-old isn’t in Springer’s league offensively.

It’s possible the Astros could sign Bradley to play center and add a more offensive-minded player in left field, where they also have a vacancy, with Michael Brantley joining Springer on the free-agent market. While Brantley is an option to return, Houston may aim its sights a bit higher.

Per Heyman, the Astros have expressed interest in Ozuna, whose market reportedly runs at least 10 teams deep. What Houston will need to decide is whether it is comfortable playing Ozuna in the field, as Yordan Alvarez is likely to enter 2021 as the team’s regular designated hitter after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees in August.

Report: Mets show interest in Ozuna

Nov. 16: The Mets saw first-hand the damage Ozuna can do with a bat in his hands while he topped the NL in homers and RBIs. But could Ozuna inflict that damage in orange and blue next season?

The New York Post’s Ken Davidoff reports that the Mets have expressed interest in the free-agent slugger. They’re far from alone, of course; MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported last week that as many as 10 teams had shown some level of interest in Ozuna, though this is the first time that the Mets have specifically been connected to him by a major report. The fit between New York and Ozuna isn’t obvious, since the club is seemingly covered at DH (Pete Alonso, Robinson Canó and J.D. Davis) and the corner-outfield spots (Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil). But as Davidoff points out, the Mets’ lineup does skew heavier toward the left side than most other offenses, and the right-handed Ozuna could help them improve against lefty pitchers (.773 OPS).

Catcher J.T. Realmuto and center fielder George Springer would seem to be more sensical targets given the Mets’ needs at those positions, but if the designated hitter stays in the NL for 2021, adding Ozuna to New York’s lineup certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Where will Ozuna land? Experts say ...

Nov. 14: Ozuna is one of the most coveted free agents on the market this offseason, so there is no shortage of predictions as to where the slugging outfielder will land for the 2021 season. MLB.com asked three reporters for their thoughts on the matter, and all three had a different destination for Ozuna. More >