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Braves sign Marcell Ozuna to one-year, $18 million deal

The Ozuna signing slightly lessens the impact of Josh Donaldson’s loss after he signed with the Twins.

2019 NLDS Game 4 - Atlanta Braves v. St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Braves have signed outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal, a move that was first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Tuesday night and was quickly confirmed by the team:

Ozuna, 29, is an interesting addition to the Braves’ lineup and should slightly lessen the impact of losing Josh Donaldson to the Twins. Ozuna, a two-time All-Star, is capable of being one of the most impactful hitters in baseball — he hit .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBI with the Marlins in 2017 — but he’s been rather average since being traded to the Cardinals prior to the 2018 season, hitting a combined .262/.327/.451 with 52 homers over 278 games spanning two years wearing the Birds on the Bat. The Braves will hope that he can approach his 2017 production and be a reliable option in the middle of their lineup, though there should be less pressure on him in a lineup that includes Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. than there was on him in St. Louis.

The signing of Ozuna appears to push veteran Nick Markakis firmly into a fourth outfielder role, though the lefty hitter could still draw into the lineup frequently against right-handed pitchers — after all, he posted a .816 OPS against righties last season, compared to a .653 mark against lefties. If center fielder Ender Inciarte falls into a prolonged offensive slump, the team also has the option of moving Ronald Acuña Jr. from right field to center and plugging Markakis back in as the right fielder.

The move also complicates the status of former All-Star Adam Duvall, who had seemed to work his way back into the team’s plans with a strong postseason after spending most of the 2019 season in Triple-A. While the team theoretically has the ability to hang onto all its veteran outfielders now that rosters are expanding to 26 players, Duvall — a slugger who can mash lefties — seems overqualified for a fifth outfielder role and may be a candidate to be traded or released. If that type of move ultimately takes place, the team could turn to other internal options such as Austin Riley and Charlie Culberson to help soak up the remaining outfield at-bats. It’s quite possible that top prospects Christian Pache and Drew Waters could be ready to contribute in the big leagues by midseason as well.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals will move on without Ozuna in a course of action that was widely predicted and is probably the best solution for both sides. Utility player Tommy Edman may quietly be the favorite to complement Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler in St. Louis’ Opening Day outfield after putting himself on the map with a team-best .850 OPS as a rookie in 2019. With Bader and Fowler — both of whom were unspectacular in 2019 — only penciled into starting roles, all three outfield spots could theoretically be up for grabs in spring training, and Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and top prospect Dylan Carlson could seriously push for any of those positions. Justin Williams, who has been held back by injuries since being acquired in the 2018 Tommy Pham trade, and Austin Dean, who was acquired from the Marlins earlier this month, are also on the 40-man roster and could at least force themselves into bench roles this spring. And with a few weeks left before workouts get underway, the Cardinals obviously have some time left to add a veteran or two to the mix via the free-agent market. Outfielders still on the market include Nicholas Castellanos (who is likely to demand more money and term than the Cardinals would be comfortable giving him), Yasiel Puig, Kevin Pillar, Hunter Pence, Cameron Maybin, Domingo Santana, Steven Souza Jr., Matt Joyce, Juan Lagares, Billy Hamilton, and Jarrod Dyson, among others.