Braves make no qualifying offers to team’s free agents

The Braves didn’t extend a qualifying offer to any of their free agents ahead of Sunday’s deadline. The qualifying offer was a one-year deal worth $18.9 million. If a player declines the offer and signs elsewhere, his previous team is awarded draft-pick compensation. Only six free agents were issued qualifying offers across MLB.

Slugger Marcell Ozuna, the Braves’ top free agent, received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals last winter and is now ineligible. Ozuna produced the best season of his career in 2020, leading the National League in homers and RBIs while teaming with fellow MVP candidate Freddie Freeman to anchor one of the best offenses in franchise history.

The Braves have publicly expressed a desire to retain Ozuna, though the soon-to-be 30-year-old should draw plenty of interest even in what’s expected to be a slow-developing market. Like Josh Donaldson last winter, Ozuna will be the centerpiece of the Braves’ offseason.

The rest of the Braves’ free agents didn’t warrant the qualifying offer. Relievers Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Darren O’Day and Josh Tomlin join Ozuna on the open market. Catcher Tyler Flowers, outfielder Nick Markakis, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria and starter Cole Hamels are among their other notable free agents. Free agency officially opened Sunday evening.

Coming off their most successful season in 20 years, the Braves will seek upgrades across the board that help push them over the hump. The Braves want to add to their rotation, which despite improving late was an issue throughout the 2020 season. They’ll need to tweak their bullpen, either re-signing their own relievers or replacing them. If Ozuna departs, they’ll explore other middle-of-the-order options — just as Ozuna was an alternative to Donaldson a year ago. They’ll also try to strengthen their bench.

Also on the list: Freeman and the Braves could open extension talks, with the first baseman approaching free agency next winter. Both sides have repeatedly expressed a desire to keep Freeman with the organization for the remainder of his career.