Atlanta Braves: Did Marcell Ozuna Make The Right Decision?

ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 16: Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds third base after hitting a two-run home run against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on September 16, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 16: Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds third base after hitting a two-run home run against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on September 16, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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The Atlanta Braves secured the services of OF Marcell Ozuna for 1 year and $18M.  Ozuna reportedly turned down multi-year offers.  Was that the right choice?

Marcell Ozuna was one of the premier free agents on the market this offseason.  He signed a 1-year deal to play for the Atlanta Braves valued right around the qualifying offer amount of $18M.  The Braves hope the combination of Ozuna in the OF and moving Austin Riley back to his natural 3B spot will make up for the loss of 3B Josh Donaldson.

It’s also worth noting the Atlanta Braves have two highly rated OF prospects that could be ready for the MLB this year in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters so a multi-year deal wouldn’t have made sense for Atlanta to begin with.  Even though Atlanta didn’t offer multiple years,

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Jon Heyman reported that Ozuna turned down multi-year offers to bet on himself.

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So Marcell Ozuna turned down a lot of guaranteed money even if it was at a lower annual rate than $18M.  Should Ozuna have taken the contract with more guaranteed money?

Ozuna made a smart decision to bet on himself, so much so he could get a Josh Donaldson-like deal next season.   Ozuna turned in a respectable year batting .243/.330/.474 (110 wRC+) without much defense that totaled 2.6 fWAR.  That being said, Ozuna has several promising indicators on offense and defense that could turn him into one of the premier outfielders in baseball instead of a merely good one.

Offensively, Ozuna has the makings of a monster hitter at the plate.  His exit velocities and hard-hit rate were in the top 7% in the entire MLB.  Looking at Ozuna’s expected statistics, he ranks in the top 15% or better for expected batting average (xBA), expected slugging (xSLG), and expected weighted-on-base-average (xwOBA).  Ozuna had some of the largest splits between his actual stats and expected statistics.

His xBA, xSLG, xwOBA were -0.47, -0.76, and -0.46 which were some of the largest splits in all of baseball.  With nothing more than batted ball luck, Ozuna’s batting line could look more like Juan Soto (142 wRC+) than Kevin Newman (110 wRC+).

Once upon a time, Ozuna was the CF for the Miami Marlins outfield where he was flanked by Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.  Despite the numbers and the play below, Ozuna has actually been an above-average defensive outfielder in the past.  If you combine 2017 and 2018, Ozuna was the tenth best outfielder by defensive runs saved.  Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) had some disagreements with DRS but still considered Ozuna an above-average outfielder at +3.

This past season though Ozuna’s OAA cratered down to -8 which made him one of the worst outfielders in all of baseball.  There is still hope for a rebound, Ozuna remains an above-average runner and while is Jump is below average, he’s closer to league average than worst outfielder in the league.

One area that could improve for Ozuna would be his positioning as he plays a shallow LF and shades closer to the line.  Ozuna could also spend his offseason training on his reaction in the outfield.  One last subjective issue is the Stadium itself.  Baseball seams are Red and so are the seats in Busch Stadium which could make the ball harder to track off the bat.  If Ozuna can become even an average defensive outfielder that will increase his total ceiling tremendously.

If Ozuna takes one step forward on offense or defense, he could be looking at a guarantee comparable to Aaron Hicks or AJ Pollock.  If he takes both steps forward, Ozuna will be the second-best outfielder and maybe even player on the free-agent market behind Mookie Betts.  If Ozuna can show that he is a true talent 5.0 WAR player on both sides of the ball, he could be looking at a comparable contract to the one Justin Upton or Charlie Blackmon signed.

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Marcell Ozuna is making the right decision by betting on himself and the Atlanta Braves stand to be the prime beneficiaries of that bet.  Ozuna just might become a superstar and the third former Marlins outfielder to get a $100M deal.