Like every other team in Major League Baseball, the Atlanta Braves have plenty of questions. But one that everyone is spouting out right now will definitely be at the top of general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ priority list this offseason.
Can the Braves re-sign free agent outfielder – designated hitter Marcell Ozuna?
The answer is yes, they can re-sign him. But perhaps the better question is, “Will they be allowed to re-sign him?”
First, let’s show why the Braves could re-sign Ozuna, who led the National League in home runs ( 18) and RBI (56) this season.
It’s difficult to obviously predict what the Braves will use for budget projections in 2021. We don’t know if there will be 162 games or if fans will be allowed in stadiums. So, we can only go on what the Braves had lined up for the payroll in 2020 with a full season and wonder if that number will be held steady, increase, or decrease.
The Braves were set to have a payroll just below $160 million. It looks like the prorated payroll for the 60-game schedule was around $63 million. The best we can do is to see how those figures are impacted by money coming off the books.
Here are the pending free agents, with their full 2020 salaries:
Marcell Ozuna - $18 million
Cole Hamels - $18 million
Mark Melancon - $14 million
Shane Greene - $6.25 million
Tyler Flowers - $4 million
Nick Markakis - $4 million
Adeiny Hechavarria - $1 million
Josh Tomlin - $1 million
That's $66.25 million total coming off the books using full salaries from 2020.
Then there are several other players who could be non-tendered:
Mike Foltynewicz - $6.425 million
Luke Jackson - $1.825 million
Charlie Culberson - $1 million
That's at least another $9.25 million making the potential total coming off the books this winter $75.5 million.
So, if we’re using $160 million as the baseline for what the 2020 payroll might have been in a normal, full season, that would mean that 47 % of that money is coming off the books.
Let us now take a look at how the 2021 salaries look as of right now:
Freddie Freeman - $22 million
Will Smith - $13 million
Travis d'Arnaud - $8 million
Ender Inciarte - $8 million
Chris Martin - $7 million
Ronald Acuna - $5 million
Ozzie Albies - $3 million
Darren O'Day - $3.5 million (option picked up)
Dansby Swanson - $6.3 million arbitration estimate
Adam Duvall - $5.75 million arbitration estimate
Max Fried - $2.4 million arbitration estimate
Johan Camargo - $2.1 million arbitration estimate
Mike Soroka - $1.9 million arbitration estimate
Grant Dayton - $0.9 million arbitration estimate
That's a total of $88,850 million for 14 players. If they have the same payroll of $160 million, that leaves $71.150 million to play with. Could Ozuna take up $25 million of that $71.150 million? Probably
Let's say the Braves drop the payroll 15% - making it $136 million for 2021. Well, that would mean there would be 47.150 million available. Using $25 million of that for one player would make it difficult to get another starting pitcher and fill out the rest of the roster.
It would be difficult if the team dropped the payroll that much, but not impossible.
If another team were to offer Ozuna some idiotic contract, like a five-year deal worth somewhere between $25-$30 million per season, he would probably be playing elsewhere in the next few seasons.
One thing to remember: With Cristian Pache set to take over in center field, and prospect Drew Waters perhaps on the way in another year, the Braves could have two inexpensive outfielders during most of the time Ozuna would be under contract.
The ability to re-sign Ozuna will largely depend on what Liberty Media, and perhaps even more specifically Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk, allows for the payroll. No one knows how robust the free agent market will be this year because of the pandemic, and teams will first have to set their payrolls to determine their flexibility in being active in bringing in free agents and making trades.
McGuirk had said in years past he expected the payroll to rise every season, due to the obvious financial windfall from the Battery. Now that the Braves (like every other team) have lost millions due to the pandemic, which has cost many people their jobs, the situation is quite unclear.
The Braves could hope that if there is a full season, and if there are fans in the stands, they could budget for around the same amount that had slated for 2020 in 2021. If so, the Braves will have plenty of money to bring back Ozuna and to target a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
The ownership must realize that this team is close. Yes, the pandemic has presented unparalleled circumstances, but the potential reward for making certain moves could push the Braves over the top, which will in turn create tremendous financial opportunities for the rest of this decade.
So, yes, they can afford Ozuna, but will they want to?
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