High on the list, much like a year ago, is what will this team do with a high-impact player it had on a one-year lease?
Last year it was Josh Donaldson the Braves had for a single season on a contract rehab assignment. Both he and they did such a good job that when it came time to re-sign, Donaldson was too costly to keep, according to the strict accounting of Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Donaldson went to the Twins for four years and $92 million and appeared in fewer than half their games and hit .222. He had 37 homers for the Braves in 2019. At the pace he was on this year – as dangerous as it is to project anything off this mutant season – he would have hit 16 over 162 games.
Now the big price-point player is Marcell Ozuna, who over the deceiving sample size of 60 games had the most monstrous of his eight big league years. He was central to the Braves run to the National League Championship Series, a .272 hitter his previous seven seasons who hit .338 this shortened season with the highest OPS (1.067) of his career.
As he did in Donaldson’s case, Anthopoulos spoke glowingly yet furtively of Ozuna. The man could never play blackjack because he never shows his cards.
“As a stand-alone, Marcell was amazing for us. He was awesome,” the GM said during the season wrap-up virtual presser Tuesday.
“Would love to have him. There is uncertainty in so many areas. Not trying to be cryptic or foreshadow, but we’re going to have to work to try to get as many answers as we can from a revenue standpoint, a DH standpoint, all those things. There is no doubt he was tremendous for us, he did a great job, he fit in great and we’d love to have him part of what we’re doing going forward.”
Many of the uncertainties facing baseball in 2021 are baked into whether the Braves make a serious run at re-signing Ozuna.
For one thing, the marketplace is a mess given the coronavirus-related revenue losses. And there is no way yet to get a good read on future revenue. In the best of times, the Braves have shown themselves unwilling to bid up the dollars and the years for a player (even if Ozuna is five years younger than Donaldson).
For another, there is the designated hitter question. This year, adding the DH to the NL was one of several virus-inspired rules changes that the Braves' brass uniformly love. And it was in the DH role that Ozuna prospered.
He won a Gold Glove in 2017 as an outfielder, leading me to believe now the Russians must have tampered with the voting. For I watched him afield this year with at least one eye closed, fearing the worst.
Once he was freed of defensive responsibilities, Ozuna’s hitting went to another level.
In the 21 games in which he played in the outfield: .291 average; 4 home runs; .532 slugging percentage.
In the 39 regular season games as a DH: .362 average; 14 home runs; .691 slugging percentage.
Will the DH return to all of baseball next season. Probably. But who knows for sure?
Ozuna turned down a nearly $18 million qualifying offer from St. Louis last offseason in order to prove himself with the Braves at $5 million less (prorated over a shorter season). Prove himself he did. Now, if somebody out there can offer the kind of money Ozuna believes he deserves over multiple years, it’s difficult to see the Braves wading into water so deep, especially for a presumptive DH.
A guess here: It’s more than likely we have seen Ozuna’s last at-bat as a Brave (an eighth-inning line-out to first Sunday, by the way).
Brief as it was, this 2020 Braves season was draining. “I’m more exhausted right now than I’ve ever been after any 162-game season and playoffs,” Snitker said Tuesday.
And it was exhilarating. “There’s an extreme sense of pride in what we accomplished,” the manager said. “What these young players got to go through, the experience, it was phenomenal. It’s unbelievable what we did this year when I look back on it and the obstacles we had to go through.”
It’s certainly not the case for the year in general, but there is much from the Braves 2020 to file away as fond memory. And the sense here is that the quick whip of Ozuna’s bat will be among that which is gone but not forgotten.