ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves are bringing back Marcell Ozuna, signing the slugger to a $65 million, four-year contract.
The Braves announced the deal for the 2020 National League home run and RBI leader on Friday night, less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers are set to report for spring training. The deal includes a fifth-year club option for $16 million with a $1 million buyout.
The Braves made the major commitment to Ozuna despite having no assurance there will be a designated hitter in the NL in 2021.
Ozuna’s value to the team, in the clubhouse and as lineup protection for 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman, was crucial to the team’s hopes of winning a fourth straight NL East title and making another run for the World Series.
The 30-year-old Ozuna signed an $18 million, one-year free agent deal with Atlanta last year, and then put together his best offensive season during the pandemic-shortened campaign. He batted .338 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs, narrowly missing out on a Triple Crown. He started all 60 games, posting a career-best 1.067 OPS and finishing sixth in NL MVP voting.
“My power came because I’m healthy,” Ozuna said after the season. “… I just came ready and give my best to my teammates and let’s go play.”
Ozuna was respected and liked by teammates, including Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
“I’m a guy that’s got a couple years in the big leagues and they give much respect to me and I give respect to them,” Ozuna said. “We have respect together. We have success. It’s not because they are Latin guys. It’s because they are my teammates.”
Ozuna would open the season as Atlanta’s projected starter in left field if the DH is not reinstated.
The NL adopted the DH last year as part of baseball’s health and safety protocols for playing through the pandemic. Ozuna made 39 starts as Atlanta’s primary DH.
Major League Baseball proposed renewing the universal DH in talks with the players association last week, but the union rejected the proposal, which also would have delayed the start of the regular season and expanded the postseason field.
With Ozuna locked in, Atlanta will return essentially the same lineup that finished second in the majors with 348 runs last year — one behind the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Braves have also added to the rotation by signing veterans Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly.
Smyly, a left-hander, signed a one-year, $11 million deal. Morton, a right-hander, signed for one year at $15 million.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.