What’s next for Ozuna, Braves?

April 24th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

How long will the Braves continue putting Marcell Ozuna in their lineup?

This popular question has become even more pressing as Ozuna has struggled mightily this season. The boos he heard from the home crowd at Truist Park on Saturday night caused reason to wonder if any other Atlanta player had ever drawn so much friendly fire. B.J. Upton? Maybe. But the vitriol for Ozuna seems even stronger. 

Upton didn’t live up to the expectations of the five-year, $75 million deal he signed before the 2013 season. He posted a .595 OPS in two seasons for Atlanta before being traded.

But Ozuna’s production since signing a four-year, $65 million contract in February 2021 hasn’t been much better. He has produced a -1.5 fWAR, the fourth-worst mark among all players with at least 700 plate appearances within this span. He has also been involved in multiple off-field incidents. His domestic violence arrest in 2021 was followed by a DUI arrest last summer.

Quite simply, Ozuna’s tenure with the Braves has been one to forget.

So, how much longer will the Braves keep Ozuna? My guess is his tenure could end soon after Michael Harris II and Travis d’Arnaud return from the injured list. Both were cleared to begin taking batting practice on the field on Saturday.  

Once d’Arnaud returns, he’ll draw some of those designated hitter plate appearances that Ozuna has logged over the past couple of weeks. At that point, Ozuna, who is 4-for-51 this season, will not have any clear role. 

All this being said, I get why the Braves were willing to give Ozuna one more chance this year.  The veteran slugger showed enough production against left-handed pitching late last season to get regular at-bats, including during the postseason, as the DH. Then he hit .315 with an .854 OPS during Spring Training (albeit with a sample size of 54 at-bats).

But this season’s first three weeks have provided a better assessment of what the Braves should do. 

The only question now is how long they might wait before cutting their losses.