Of all Atlanta Braves rumors and rumblings to date (and there haven't been many), this is the rumor that sounds most perplexing... but there's a likely reason for that.
In a lengthy report about the Cardinals, their off-season plans and progress, beat writer Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a nugget of information buried deep inside that involves our Atlanta Braves (emphasis added):
The interest in [Marcell] Ozuna gained some clarity for his agent Melvin Roman this week as he met with teams. At least six teams have expressed initial interest in Ozuna and according to multiple sources that group includes the Reds and the White Sox. Atlanta and Texas also have some interest. The Cardinals and Ozuna’s agent both say they remain in contact. Ozuna has expressed an interest in remaining with the Cardinals. The Cardinals are reluctant to commit the amount of years Ozuna seeks.
Yes - that's outfielder Marcell Ozuna, as Alex Anthopoulos continues to confound us with rumors - or actual signings in the case of Will Smith - about players who occupy positions that the Braves seem to already have covered.
Nope... still nothing about catchers or third basemen yet.
Of course that may be related to the reason that the team is checking in on Ozuna. Stick with me here a bit...
As Goold explains, the free agent outfield market is quite thin this year - and the 29½-year-old Ozuna is probably the best available player in it.
Still, he's got an attached qualifying offer and he's not the kind of perennial All-Star that you might expect at such a salary level. In fact, he is finally entering his first foray into free agency having made $12 million and change last season.
Despite the chance for a lofty raise ($17.8 million being the automatic QO bid), he's opted to seek better terms on a multi-year deal... except that Ozuna is exactly the kind of player who might be hurt by the QO stigma (see Yasmani Grandall, et al)... very good at times, but not 'top tier' great, either.
Ozuna has been useful... fWAR values of 5.0, 2.8, and 2.6 in the past 3 years - the latter pair with the Cardinals after starting out with the Marlins. But he truly hasn't maintained the promise of greatness generated after a 37 HR season in 2017... though with the juiced baseball he managed 29 dingers against a pedestrian .243 average in 2019.
We won't talk about how he damaged the Braves in that playoff series, though.
So Why The Interest?
Atlanta is all about 'due diligence', so for the moment we should probably just note that the agent (he's probably the source of this rumor) has spoken with the Braves and chalk it up to the practice of Alex Anthopoulos to touch all bases.
However, there is a convoluted scenario in which this rumor might play. Here's how:
- Ozuna gets uninspired offers from other clubs
- St. Louis doesn't feel the need to overpay (that's already happening, it seems)
- Atlanta is spurned by Josh Donaldson and wants to insure that they have some kind of replacement offense... anywhere on the field.
- They offer Ozuna a 'pillow' contract... something around $16 million for a single year.
- He'd have a chance to re-build value
- He'd then re-enter free agency in 2021 without a Qualifying Offer, presumably getting better terms
If all of this were to come to pass, then the Braves would have to shuffle things quite considerably in their own outfield since Inciarte, Markakis, Acuna, and Duvall are all already on the roster... never mind Austin Riley (waiting in the wings).
That's getting well ahead of ourselves... and not likely to be a concern anyway: the chances of this happening are vanishingly close to zero.
So if you woke up to this news today, then don't try to twist your mind around about it:
- this is not a signal that the Braves are about to fire the big guns (dollars) at multiple players
- this is not a case in which the Braves are trying to lock up another outfielder for multiple years that would block Cristian Pache or Drew Waters... or both.
In fact, this is almost certainly a 2-tiered "in case of emergency break glass" situation - for both Ozuna and for Atlanta - in case both of their respective off-season plans go completely awry.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled hot-stove speculation theories on twitter and beyond.