Braves sign Marcell Ozuna

Bill Shanks

The Braves have found their cleanup hitter. It’s Marcell Ozuna, the free agent outfielder, who signed a one-year, $18 million dollar contract with the team Tuesday.

With Josh Donaldson headed to Minnesota, the Braves needed a bat for the middle of the batting order, someone to protect and hit behind Freddie Freeman. Ozuna has mainly hit fourth in his career, with a .269 batting average, a .330 on base percentage, 89 home runs and 318 RBI in 2000 at bats.

Last season, Ozuna hit .243 with 29 home runs and 89 RBI in 485 at bats. His numbers in St. Louis the last two years dipped from his first five years in Miami. Ozuna’s best season was in 2017 when he hit .312 with a .376 OBP, 37 home runs and 124 RBI in 613 at bats.

Ozuna just turned 29 two months ago. The right-handed hitter is a two-time All-Star and won a Gold Glove in 2017, but his arm has been a question mark. While Ozuna has played all three positions in the outfield, he will be the regular left fielder for the Braves.

This means Ronald Acuna, Jr. will play either right field or center field. When Ender Inciarte is in the lineup, he will play center field and Acuna will play right. If Acuna is in center, the Braves will have either Nick Markakis or Adam Duvall in right field.

As for the lineup, it is projected to have Acuna leading off, followed by Ozzie Albies, Freeman and Ozuna. New catcher Travis d’Arnaud will likely hit fifth when he’s in the lineup, followed by third baseman Johan Camargo, shortstop Dansby Swanson and then the other outfielder. It’s not out of the question that Markakis or Duvall could hit higher in the order if they are doing well.

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos praised Camargo in his Tuesday night conference call discussing the Ozuna signing. The Braves have been encouraged by Camargo’s desire to reclaim third base, the position he started at in 2018 before Donaldson was brought in last offseason.

This could mean that Austin Riley begins the season at Triple-A Gwinnett playing third base. If Riley did well and Camargo were to struggle, the Braves could then give Riley another chance and move Camargo back to the bench.

Of course, if Riley proved in March his minor league days are behind him, there could be a great competition for the hot corner. Riley also proved last season he could play the outfield, so he still must be considered an option there, as well. Riley started 58 games in left field and two games in right field last season.

The Braves’ payroll stands somewhere between $145-$148 million for 2020, the highest amount in team history to start a season. With the expiring contracts of Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Tyler Flowers, Nick Markakis and Adeiny Hechavarria, the Braves will have $65.5 million coming off the books next offseason.

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