Outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who hit 29 home runs last season, the second of two adequate if unexceptional seasons in St. Louis, on Tuesday agreed to the terms of a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.
The deal is for one year and worth $18 million. It’s pending a physical but has been confirmed by the Braves. Atlanta is getting another big bat to add to its already potent lineup. The Braves will be hoping this one-year deal pays off like signing Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal last offseason.
The Braves had tried to re-sign Donaldson before he opted to join the Minnesota Twins. Ozuna’s bat will help replace him, but he’ll also require the Braves to shuffle a bit on defense. The team plans to make Ozuna their everyday left fielder, being part of an outfield trio that includes Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ender Inciarte. The Braves were going to have Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall platoon in left before signing Ozuna.
Acquired by the Cardinals two years ago as part of a salary purge by the Miami Marlins, and after a season in which he batted .312 with 37 home runs and won a Gold Glove in left field, Ozuna averaged 26 home runs and regressed in most offensive categories. Among the issues, the right-handed hitter suddenly became vulnerable against left-handed pitchers, against whom he batted .217. He also rated about average as a left fielder.
Still, Ozuna, 29, remained a home run threat in a game that values them more than ever. He has averaged 28 home runs in the past four seasons, remains in the thick of his prime and did play much of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery.
There also were few potential impact outfielders on the free-agent market. Along with Ozuna, there were Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Avisail Garcia, then the likes of Brett Gardner, Kole Calhoun, Cameron Maybin, Hunter Pence and Alex Gordon. Garcia signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for $20 million over two seasons, Calhoun with the Arizona Diamondbacks for $16 million over two seasons and Gardner re-signed with the New York Yankees.
The Cardinals appeared to have the inside track on Ozuna, if indeed they determined he should be part of their future. In September, asked by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch if it were his preference to return to St. Louis, Ozuna responded, “That’s my priority. My agents just have to do their job.”
His agent is Melvin Roman of MDR Sports Management (who represents Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, among others) as of May, when Ozuna left Scott Boras.
Early in winter, it seemed Ozuna would receive attention from the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds, Braves and Cardinals. Ozuna did receive the $17.8-million qualifying offer from the Cardinals, further complicating what could be viewed as a complicated free agency. The Reds signed 31-year-old Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama to a three-year, $21-million contract in the first week of January.
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