The good news: Marcell Ozuna has hit two home runs. The not-so-good: Those homers represent 66.7% of his hits for the 2023 season, now into its third weekend.
He has 41 plate appearances, a small sample size. His WRC+ – weighted runs created plus – is 20; league average is 100. His OPS is .445, sixth-worst among MLB hitters. His batting average is .083, worst among MLB hitters.
Point No. 1: The Braves are paying Ozuna to hit. He has played only two games afield.
Point No. 2: The Braves are paying him $16 million this season. He’s their fourth-highest salaried player. They’ll owe another $16M in 2024. Come 2025, they could buy him out for $1M. That’s $33M for a guy you don’t trust wearing a fielder’s mitt and whose aggregate WAR since signing this contract in February 2021 is minus-1.4.
The Braves have waited for Ozuna to be the Ozuna of 2020, the COVID year. He led the National League in RBIs, finished sixth in MVP voting and became the expressive taker of faux selfies on a team that nearly made the World Series.
He dislocated two fingers in May 2021. He was arrested on a felony assault charge for allegedly choking his wife that same month. The charge was reduced to misdemeanor family violence. He entered a six-month intervention program. He was hit with a retroactive 20-game suspension by MLB. Last August, he was arrested for DUI. “I’m Ozuna from the Braves,” he told the arresting officer.
The Braves could have paid him to go away after either arrest. They didn’t. He managed 23 home runs last season. His on-base percentage was .274, fourth-worst among qualifying hitters. He served as DH for 72 games; it defeats the purpose if a designated hitter doesn’t hit. He went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the NLDS. (He hit .245 with three homers and 11 RBIs during the 12-game playoff run of 2020.)
In 2020, the Braves signed him for a year at $18 million as Plan B after Josh Donaldson’s exit. Due to the shortened season, they paid a pro-rated $6.7M. That year, they got their money’s worth. Signing him for four more seasons has proved less fruitful. Ozuna had 56 RBIs over 60 games in 2020; he had 56 over 124 in 2022.
It happens. Dan Uggla was a good hitter until he wasn’t. The Braves released him in July 2014, still owing $18M.
The Braves are 9-4. It’s not as if Ozuna’s struggles have dragged them to last place. That said, keeping a non-producer on the roster eventually becomes unfair to the others on that roster. It’s also unfair to the manager. A player can’t hit unless he plays. The flip side: A non-hitter can only not-hit for so long before his lack of production has a ripple effect.
To be fair, Ozuna had a nice spring. His OPS was .854. Also to be fair, those games didn’t count.
The guess is that the Braves, having gone this far, will go a bit longer. Ozuna’s batting average on balls in play is .043, which could be viewed as an indication he has been unlucky. The Braves, you should know, consider him a solid guy in the clubhouse; if he weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But the longer this goes, the closer the team comes to a clean break. His trade value, as you’d guess, is nil.
Human nature is to hold a poorly performing investment in the hope of losing a little less money. A sunk cost, alas, stays sunk. At some point a rational investor admits defeat and moves on. The Braves aren’t an irrational organization. It’s hard to imagine Ozuna being here much longer.
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