Atlanta Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna has switched agents after a slow start to his free agency. Could the SF Giants take advantage of his slow market?
Free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who spent the 2020 season with the Atlanta Braves, changed agents on Sunday. According to a new report by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Ozuna decided to make the switch because he has received no offers thus far on the open market. Easily one of the best hitters available, if teams are tentative to make a competitive offer, it’s worth pondering whether the SF Giants could emerge as a landing spot.
Ozuna was one of the best players in baseball this season. Serving as Atlanta’s primary designated hitter (although he played 19 games in left field and 2 games in right as well), he led the league in home runs (18), runs batted in (56), and total bases (145). Finishing sixth in the National League Most Valuable Player award voting, the 30-year old seemed poised for a big payday.
Of course, this offseason, MLB owners around the league are contracting labor spending in response to revenue drops in 2020 and in preparation for Collective Bargaining negotiations in the coming year. It’s clear that many organizations will put inferior rosters on the field in 2021 because owners are prioritizing increasing profit margins going forward.
At first, Ozuna seems like an uncomfortable fit in San Francisco. There are plenty of reasons why George Springer, another premium bat available this offseason, is unlikely to sign with the Giants. Ozuna has a lot of similarities to the longtime Astros outfielder. Both are righthanded power hitters with strong track records of success entering their 30s.
However, Ozuna declined a qualifying offer last offseason in search of a multi-year deal. Instead, he signed a one-year deal with Atlanta before reentering the market this offseason. Since players can only receive a qualifying offer once, a signing team will not have to sacrifice draft capital for signing Ozuna. With a Giants front office that clearly prioritizes prospects, that’s a big deal.
According to Rosenthal’s report, Ozuna’s agent was looking for a contract with close to $100 million in guarantees. Needless to say, that might explain why no offers have come in. In a fair offseason, Ozuna compares comparably to players like Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez, who both received nine-figure guarantees. This free-agent market though seems unlikely to pay players what they deserve. Ozuna’s payday will probably be closer to Nick Castellanos’ 4-year, $64 million deal last offseason.
MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs both predicted Ozuna to sign a four-year deal with about $72 million in guarantees. Castellanos’ contract included an opt-out after one season and that might be a desirable clause for Ozuna as well. Still, that’s probably near the ceiling for a deal this offseason. It’s not unreasonable that Ozuna could settle for a four-year, $60 million or shorter-term two-year, $40 million contract. If the price falls that far, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi should be making an offer.
The Giants may have built a solid collection of outfielders, but Ozuna is one of the best hitters in the league. With a potential roster crunch imminent, the team will struggle to platoon so aggressively if rosters are constricted back down to 26 in 2021. Ozuna would give them an everyday player across from Mike Yastrzemski in the outfield. If the universal DH returns next season, adding Ozuna could allow manager Gabe Kapler to deploy this Opening Day lineup:
Hypothetical SF Giants 2021 Opening Day Roster:
1. Mike Yastrzemski, RF (L)
2. Donovan Solano, 2B (R)
3. Brandon Belt, 1B (L)
4. Marcell Ozuna, LF (R)
5. Alex Dickerson, DH (L)
6. Evan Longoria, 3B (R)
7. Brandon Crawford, SS (L)
8. Buster Posey, C (R)
9. Mauricio Dubon, CF (R)
That does not include Austin Slater, Darin Ruf, or Wilmer Flores, who all were major contributors in 2020 and are under team control in 2021.
While many Giants fans have no concerns about the lineup heading into 2021, it’s worth noting that Crawford, Belt, Yastrzemski, Slater, Solano, Dickerson, Ruf, and Flores are all coming off career years. Many could maintain their success going forward, but there’s likely to be some severe regression. That’s before addressing Longoria, Belt, Dickerson, and Slater’s extensive injury histories.
Adding Ozuna would give the offense a buffer. Even if some other players regress or are hamstrung by injuries in 2021, he would be a large enough upgrade to counteract many of those declines. In a sense, he would be both a necessity and an insurance policy.
Defensively, Ozuna has graded below-average per Outs Above Average but is far from unplayable. Atlanta struggled to get offensive production from the rest of their outfield all season, but with a number of premium defensive players, it made sense to shift Ozuna to the DH spot. With that said, if he were signed to a longer-term contract, he’s proved he can be productive in that role as well.
Perhaps most importantly, adding Ozuna would enable the front-office to more aggressively shop players like Dickerson, Slater, Ruf, and top prospects like Heliot Ramos. With Rays ace Blake Snell available in trade talks, maybe the Giants are willing to make their first splashes of the Farhan Zaidi era.
On the surface, Marcell Ozuna would seem like a luxury, but if the SF Giants are serious about competing with teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres next season, they will need to make some major upgrades. After reports suggest the Atlanta Braves power-hitter is not receiving the robust market he expected, the Giants may be able to take advantage of the suppressed market to add one of the best hitters in baseball.