The Milwaukee Brewers have stayed mostly on the sidelines in terms of transactions this offseason, with their splashiest move coming in the form of a $900K, non-guaranteed one-year deal given to infielder Daniel Robertson. The front office has been downplaying the possibility of a big addition all winter, almost immediately suggesting after the end of last season that payroll will come down again in 2021. According to a recent report, however, the Brewers may be lurking as the market for one of the top free agent stars continues to develop:
Marcell Ozuna, who is heading into his age-30 season, is undoubtedly one of the best bats available on the open market. He is coming off arguably the finest season of his career (albeit during the shortened pandemic campaign), having batted .338/.431/.636 for a 179 wRC+ in 267 plate appearances for the Braves in 2020. He led the National League with 18 home runs, 56 RBI, and 145 total bases, and finished 6th in MVP balloting after the year. Ozuna was also something of a Statcast darling, supporting his outstanding results with an exit velocity that ranked in the league’s 96th percentile, a hard contact rate in the 97th percentile, a barrel rate in the 94th percentile, and an expected weighted on-base average in the 99th percentile. For his career, the former Marlin, Cardinal, and Brave has hit .276/.335/.466 with 166 home runs in 4,128 plate appearances for a 117 wRC+.
Ozuna has developed a reputation as a defensive liability, although the metrics don’t necessarily agree, at least regarding his work in left field — he has been valued at 0 runs or better in every season of his career by Defensive Runs Saved and he won a Gold Glove in 2017. Ultimate Zone Rating had him at slightly below-average in left in 2020, the first time he’d graded that way in his career. Ozuna should not play in right or center field, and it is worth noting that he was the designated hitter for the majority of his time in Atlanta last season, with 39 games at DH versus 21 in the the field. Currently, left field is occupied in Milwaukee by Ozuna’s former teammate, Christian Yelich.
There is also the matter of price. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Ozuna as their #4 free agent at the start of the offseason and predicted that he’d earn a four-year, $72 mil contract. That seems to jive with what he is reportedly seeking on the open market, at least in terms of years. It has been suggested that the Brewers will only spend about $80-$85 mil on payroll during the upcoming season. Current projections put the team at about $73 mil in projected payroll as of the moment, meaning some creativity would be required if that $80-$85 mil figure is indeed accurate.
The Menomonee Valley Nine could certainly use an offensive boost heading into 2021, and Ozuna would fit the mold as an impact bat who puts the ball in play at a solid clip while also drawing plenty of walks. Whether or not the team will make an expenditure of this magnitude remains to be seen, however. It might take a cratering of Ozuna’s market, forcing him to once again consider one-year deals, in order to make Milwaukee a plausible destination.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant