Braves re-sign slugger Marcell Ozuna

Credit: Leo Willingham/AJC

The Braves re-signed outfielder/designated hitter Marcell Ozuna, the team announced Friday evening. The deal is for four years and $65 million, with a fifth-year team option worth $16 million, and there is a $1 million buyout.

Ozuna, 30, produced a monstrous season on a one-year deal in 2020. The slugger came close to winning the triple crown, hitting .338/.431/.636 with a league-leading 18 homers and 56 RBIs in the 60-game season. He did the bulk of his damage as a designated hitter. His offensive production helped the Braves win their third consecutive National League East title and take the Dodgers to the brink in a seven-game NL Championship Series.

It’s still possible there’s a universal DH this season, but for now, traditional rules apply. Such a scenario means that Ozuna, a below-average outfielder, will be in left field. If the universal DH eventually is implemented, even better: Ozuna would presumably log the majority of his time at DH. The expectation that the universal DH will be part of the next collective bargaining agreement (the current one expires in December) means Ozuna will almost certainly be a DH during most of his time in Atlanta.

In retaining Ozuna, the Braves are keeping an instrumental piece of arguably the best offense in team history. If the Braves opt to keep the top four of last season’s order, their lineup will begin with Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman, Ozuna and Travis d’Arnaud. Certainly, Freeman is thrilled. The long-time Braves first baseman had the best season of his career hitting in front of Ozuna, culminating in an MVP award. Shortly after the signing was announced, Freeman tweeted the Braves’ announcement and also said, “love this!! Let’s go!”

One year ago, after the Braves let Josh Donaldson walk in free agency, they pivoted to Ozuna on a one-year, $18 million pact. Like Donaldson before him, Ozuna exceeded expectations on his short-term contract. Beyond the production, he was beloved in the clubhouse, meshing perfectly with a group built with veterans and youngsters. He was the perfect fit that, ultimately, the Braves couldn’t let get away. While both sides spent months exploring alternatives, they were eventually led back to each other.

Ozuna was the storyline of the Braves’ offseason, but he might not be their final move. His deal is reportedly backloaded, which leaves the Braves immediate breathing room. They could still use another reliever - two of their own veterans, Mark Melancon and Shane Greene, remain free agents - and perhaps a bench upgrade. But undoubtedly, the biggest domino to fall was Ozuna.

Earlier in the offseason, the Braves signed starters Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to fortify their rotation. With Ozuna back in the fold, they have a club capable of winning the NL pennant. When Freeman proclaims “World Series or bust” later this month during his first spring training press conference, the masses will agree. The Braves have one straight-forward goal.

The Braves designated outfielder Kyle Garlick for assignment to open space for Ozuna on the 40-man roster.

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