- Marcell Ozuna’s free agent market is explored by an MLB.com panel of Mark Bowman, Alyson Footer, Scott Merkin, and Jesse Sanchez, with a particular focus on the White Sox (Merkin’s team on the beat) and Braves (Ozuna’s most recent team, and Bowman’s beat). The White Sox had some interest in Ozuna last winter but now might be looking for more of a full-time outfielder, Merkin says, since star prospect Andrew Vaughn is expected to step into the first base/DH mix alongside Jose Abreu at some point in 2021. Since Ozuna profiles more as a DH over the long term, the Braves might have some hesitation over bringing Ozuna back since it isn’t yet known if the National League will adopt the designated hitter for 2021. However, Bowman also notes that Ozuna quickly became a valued figure in Atlanta due to both his production and clubhouse presence. Early reports have already suggested that the Braves are interested in re-signing Ozuna, but at least nine other clubs have also inquired about his services.
Marcell Ozuna is unsurprisingly drawing a lot of early attention in free agency, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link) reports that the Braves and at least nine other teams have already shown interest in the slugger. The list of suitors includes teams from both the National and American League, despite uncertainty about whether or not the DH will be available to NL teams next season. Of course, Ozuna isn’t yet a full-time designated hitter at this point in his career, as he played 21 of his 60 games as a corner outfielder in 2020, but teams would undoubtedly prefer the security blanket of a DH spot for Ozuna over the course of a multi-year deal.
Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos has mostly preferred to invest in pricey one-year contracts for veteran players (including Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, and Ozuna himself) in free agency, though Atlanta signed Will Smith to a three-year, $39MM deal last offseason. Ozuna’s next deal might be worth almost twice as much as it took to land Smith, but considering how Atlanta expects to be contending for the World Series, making the big investment to re-sign Ozuna might be deemed as worthwhile from the Braves’ perspective.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has awarded the 2020 National League Most Valuable Player to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. He beat out fellow finalists Mookie Betts and Manny Machado for the award.
The summer began in brutal fashion for Freeman, who tested positive for COVID-19 in early July. Freeman was in such bad condition that teammate Nick Markakis decided to opt out of the season. However, Markakis quickly elected to return, and Freeman was able to regain his health by the start of the regular season.
From a production standpoint, 2020 couldn’t have gone much better for the 31-year-old Freeman, who has consistently been a fantastic player since his first full season in 2011. Freeman earned MVP honors thanks largely to a career-best .341/.462/.640 line and 13 home runs in 262 trips to the plate, helping the Braves to their third straight NL East title (though they bowed out to the Dodgers in the NLCS). He wound up first in the NL in fWAR (3.4), and second in batting average, wRC+ (187) and bWAR (2.9).
It was a landslide victory for Freeman, who collected 28 of 30 first-place votes in this year’s balloting. Betts received the other two, but he’s at least temporarily denied of becoming the first player to win the MVP in two leagues since Frank Robinson. The rest of the top five consisted of the left side of the Padres’ infield (Machado and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.) and Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.
3:20pm: The Angels have announced the hiring. Minasian received a four-year contract, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register tweets.
12:09pm: The Angels have decided on Braves assistant general manager Perry Minasian as their new general manager, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports (via Twitter). Rosenthal reported last night that Minasian was the favorite to land the post, replacing the recently fired Billy Eppler.
Following Eppler’s ousting, the Angels reportedly interviewed as many as 20 candidates for the position, though Minasian was one of just five to advance to the second wave of interviews. Also in the mix were Cubs senior vice president of player personnel Jason McLeod, D-backs assistant GMs Jared Porter and Amiel Sawdaye, and Mariners assistant GM Justin Hollander.
Ultimately the job will be entrusted to Minasian, who has been with the Braves since 2017 after a nine-year run working his way up through the Blue Jays’ scouting ranks. His appointment to this post makes for another rookie GM hire for Angels owner Arte Moreno, who has previously tabbed first-timers Tony Reagins, Jerry Dipoto and the aforementioned Eppler to lead his baseball ops department. (Dipoto had served as an interim GM in Arizona prior to being hired by the Angels.)
That’s not to suggest that Minasian is in any way a head-scratching hire — far from it. He’s previously been connected to GM vacancies, including the Mets’ opening prior to their 2018 hiring of Brodie Van Wagenen. Minasian has seemingly been preparing for an opportunity like this for most of his life, in fact. As MLB.com’s Mark Bowman noted back when the Braves hired Minasian in October 2017, he served as the Rangers’ bat boy while his father was their equipment manager and eventually rose to clubhouse attend and then to the team’s scouting department prior to his move to the Blue Jays. His brother, Zack, is currently the Giants’ pro scouting director.
From his time in the clubhouse to his tenure as a prominent scout and then an assistant GM and vice president who helped to bolster the Braves’ analytics department, Minasian has a wealth of experiences and vantage points — all of which have contributed to his ascension to the top of a big league baseball operations department.
Minasian inherits a crowded but manageable long-term payroll outlook in Anaheim. The Angels are at last in the final season of the 10-year, $240MM Albert Pujols contract negotiated by Moreno, and they’ll be out from underneath Justin Upton’s five-year, $105MM deal after the 2022 season. Starting in 2023, the only players on the books for the Angels are Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, although they’ll have some key players up for arbitration that year — most notably Shohei Ohtani, David Fletcher and Griffin Canning.
Minasian joined the Braves after the 2017 season as they were emerging from a rebuilding effort. He’ll now join a club with an even greater win-now imperative — this time standing alone atop the operations hierarchy (although Moreno has a reputation for being far more involved in baseball operations maneuverings than most of his ownership peers). It’s been six years since the Halos and Trout last reached the postseason, and Moreno has clearly grown restless as that drought has grown.
Minasian should have the green light for an aggressive offseason if he wishes. Jason Martinez of Roster Resource/FanGraphs projects a roughly $36MM gap between the Angels’ current luxury obligations and the luxury tax barrier, and that only figures to grow once the Halos make some expected non-tenders. The Angels will need to address at least one middle-infield spot and perhaps add a catcher, but the bulk of Minasian’s heavy lifting should be expected to be on the pitching side of things — in the rotation and bullpen alike.
11:29pm: Minasian is seen as the “front-runner,” Rosenthal tweets.
11:03pm: The Angels have narrowed their search for a new GM. They’ll choose between Braves assistant GM Perry Minasian and Mariners AGM Justin Hollander, according to Ken Rosenthal and Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic (via Twitter).
Other serious candidates included Jason McLeod of the Cubs and Jared Porter of the Diamondbacks. Both were among the finalists recently removed from consideration, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link). Another Arizona exec, Amiel Sawdaye, was also among the finalists, Rosenthal adds.
It seems we’ll soon know which of the remaining candidates will get the gig. The Halos will likely announce their choice tomorrow, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Registers reports on Twitter.
The top baseball operations position came open in late September, on the heels of another disappointing season. Owner Arte Moreno elected to cut bait on GM Billy Eppler despite recently extending his contract by one additional year.
Despite a five-year run of losing campaigns under Eppler, the Angels aren’t expected to present a rebuilding opportunity for a new front office leader. The club still features some premium talent, headlined by living legend Mike Trout, with the payroll commitments to match.
Though the Angels reportedly considered a wide array of potential hires, including some with previous experience in a GM seat, the team clearly homed in on a certain archetype as its search progressed. The five finalists are all relatively youthful, rising-star types who’ve yet to run their own department.
1:36pm: The Braves have formally announced the move.
12:48pm: Tomlin’s deal actually comes with a $1.25MM guarantee, Rosenthal now tweets. That indicates a $1MM salary next year plus the $250K buyout on the $1.25MM option for 2022.
11:40am: The Braves have agreed to a new contract that will bring free-agent righty Josh Tomlin back to Atlanta, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). The Meister Sports client will receive a $1MM guarantee, and his contract also contains a $1.25MM club option for the 2022 season. That option comes with a $250K buyout, suggesting that Tomlin’s 2021 salary checks in at $750K.
Tomlin, 36, joined the Braves in 2019 after a nine-year run with the Indians and has been a steady swingman for manager Brian Snitker over the past two seasons. Tomlin has appeared in 68 games for the Braves, starting on six occasions, and totaled 119 frames of 4.08 ERA ball with 6.6 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, 1.51 HR/9 and a 35 percent ground-ball rate in that time. The right-hander’s heater sits in the 88-89 mph range, but he’s managed to succeed by avoiding hard contact at an above-average clip and capitalizing on some of the best command in the game.
It’s likely that Tomlin will return to that long relief/swingman role in what should again be a solid Braves relief corps. Atlanta surprisingly bought out Darren O’Day’s club option for the 2021 season and is also in line to lose both Mark Melancon and Shane Greene to free agency. However, the Braves still have Chris Martin, Will Smith and a seemingly resurgent Tyler Matzek to anchor the ’pen, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos figures to add to that group in the coming months.
Nov. 11: Braves assistant general manager Perry Minasian is the fifth finalist for the job, Rosenthal tweets.
Nov. 10: The Los Angeles Angels are closing in on their next general manager. Per the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter), the Angels have narrowed the field to a final five candidates. Granted, the field was said to have narrowed to three as of a couple of days ago, but regardless of how many remain in contention, Rosenthal adds that a decision could be made by the end of the week.
The known candidates are Cubs senior VP Jason McLeod, Diamondbacks assistant GMs Jared Porter and Amiel Sawdaye, and Mariners assistant GM Justin Hollander. The unknown fifth candidate fits a similar mold as an assistant GM type, per Rosenthal. Porter and McLeod both connect back to manager Joe Maddon and his time with the Cubs, while Hollander spent 9 years in the Angels’ front office before moving to the Mariners, notes Rosenthal.
As many as 14 different candidates were said to have interviewed for the role, most notably Michael Hill, formerly of the Marlins. Dave Dombrowski was rumored to be a consideration, but he proved unavailable for front office roles at this time. The Angels have apparently chosen to go the promotion route, selecting someone without significant prior experience in the role.
The Braves acquired left-hander Tommy Milone from the Orioles for two players to be named later prior to the Aug. 31 deadline. A little over two months after the fact, those players’ identities are now known. The Orioles are getting infielders AJ Graffanino and Greg Cullen, per an announcement from the Braves.
AJ Graffanino, the son of former major league infielder Tony Graffanino, joined the Braves as an eighth-round pick in 2018. He has since ascended to Single-A ball, where he slashed .301/.333/.378 in 153 plate appearances during his draft year. MLB.com ranked the 23-year-old as the Braves’ No. 23 prospect before the trade, writing that “he has very good hands and a strong arm suited for shortstop.” However, with just one professional home run so far, it’s unclear how much of an offensive impact Graffanino will make in the majors.
Cullen entered the pros in the same draft class as Graffanino as a 15th-round pick. He was not a high-ranked Braves prospect, but Cullen, also 23, did slash .270/.393/.401 (138 wRC+) with nine homers in 568 PA in Single-A ball in 2019.
However these prospects turn out, the Milone acquisition didn’t go as planned for the Braves. The soft-tossing veteran posted a disastrous 14.90 ERA in 9 2/3 innings with Atlanta. Between the two teams, the now-free agent logged a 6.69 ERA/4.76 FIP over 39 frames in 2020, though he did record excellent strikeout and walk numbers (9.23 K/9, 1.38 BB/9).
The Braves won the National League East for the third straight year in 2020, but they fell to the eventual World Series champion Dodgers in the LCS. Atlanta is now at risk of losing some important contributors to free agency.
- Ronald Acuna Jr., OF: $98MM through 2026 (including $10MM buyout for 2027)
- Ozzie Albies, 2B: $33MM through 2025 (including $4MM buyout for 2026)
- Will Smith, RP: $27MM through 2022 (including $1MM buyout for 2023)
- Freddie Freeman, 1B: $22MM through 2021
- Ender Inciarte, OF: $9.025MM through 2021 (including $1.025MM buyout for 2022)
- Travis d’Arnaud, C: $8MM through 2021
- Chris Martin, RP: $7MM through 2021
Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Johan Camargo – $1.9MM
- Grant Dayton – $800K
- Adam Duvall – $4.7MM
- Max Fried – $2.4MM
- Luke Jackson – $1.9MM
- A.J. Minter – $1.1MM
- Mike Soroka – $1.8MM
- Dansby Swanson – $5.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Camargo, Jackson
- O’Day, Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Nick Markakis, Tyler Flowers, Adeiny Hechavarria, Pablo Sandoval, Josh Tomlin, Tommy Milone
The Braves have managed to pull off highly successful position players signings in each of the previous two offseasons. Heading into 2019, they added third baseman Josh Donaldson on a one-year, $23MM contract. The former MVP proceeded to rebound as a Brave, but they let him go last winter in lieu of giving him a longer deal. To replace Donaldson’s punch in their lineup, the Braves took the one-year route again when they inked outfielder Marcell Ozuna for $18MM. Like the Donaldson signing, the Ozuna pact couldn’t have gone much better for Atlanta. An above-average hitter throughout his career, the 29-year-old Ozuna found another gear in 2020 with an all-world .338/.431/.636 line and an NL-leading 18 home runs in 267 plate appearances.
While the Braves have benefited greatly from Ozuna, it’s possible his time in their uniform is up. The club has to decide in the coming weeks how far they’re willing to go to re-sign Ozuna, who MLBTR predicts will land a four-year, $72MM payday in free agency. General manager Alex Anthopoulos couldn’t issue Ozuna a qualifying offer after the Cardinals gave him one last year, so he may end up walking for nothing. Naturally, Anthopoulos has said he’d like to retain Ozuna. However, he didn’t make it sound like a slam dunk, and Anthopoulos also pointed out that it would be nice to have clarity on a potential 2021 DH. Ozuna spent most of his season there, lining up in the outfield 21 times.
In the event Ozuna leaves, the Braves will have several possible paths they could take to try to replace him. George Springer is the best outfielder in free agency, but the Braves could instead opt for another short-term play with someone like Michael Brantley or Joc Pederson if they want a proven hitter capable of playing left field to replace Ozuna.
Alternatively, the Braves could re-sign Nick Markakis — though that seems doubtful after his rough year — and/or simply stick with their in-house options as they wait for prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters to take on major league roles. They do have several options with Ronald Acuna Jr., Adam Duvall, Austin Riley, Ender Inciarte, Abraham Almonte and Johan Camargo on hand. The problem is that Acuna is the only player there who’s truly capable of striking fear into teams. In an ideal world, the Braves will be able to shed Inciarte’s $9.025MM in a trade, but that will be a challenge . Inciarte endured a terrible 2020, which will make teams even less likely to take on his money in today’s economic climate. The Braves would likely need to pay down a notable portion of the deal or take another bad contract back in return.
Moving elsewhere in the Braves’ lineup, the team has serious questions at third base. Riley is their main option there, but he had a disappointing year. So did Camargo, who now looks like a potential non-tender candidate. If the Braves are dissatisfied with them, they won’t be able to find much on the market after Justin Turner. He could make sense as another of Anthopoulos’ one- or two-year signings, though it remains to be seen whether he’d leave Los Angeles.
Another name to watch could be Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, a prime trade candidate in whom the Braves have shown interest in the past. Bryant had a poor year in 2020 and will come with a salary in the $19MM range, meaning his value is depressed. That could give the Braves an opportunity to strike for a reasonable cost and hope the former MVP can regain his usual form in his final year of team control. He’d fit the Anthopoulos mold of a high-upside, one-year commitment to a star-caliber player.
The Braves are also going to have to address their pitching staff to some extent. They received brutal injury blows this year with Mike Soroka blowing out his Achilles tendon and Cole Hamels dealing with persistent arm issues. Hamels, whom the Braves signed to a one-year, $18MM contract last offseason, was a bust due to those injuries and should be expected to land elsewhere in free agency. Soroka will be back to join Max Fried and Ian Anderson, though, which will give the Braves an elite-looking trio at the helm of their rotation. That means they don’t necessarily have to shop at the absolute top of the market for Trevor Bauer, but it’s worth noting they don’t have any established hurlers behind Soroka, Fried and Anderson.
With the Braves likely to add at least one starter, Anthopoulos could look to reunite with one of the other top names available, Marcus Stroman. There’s a clear connection between the two, as Anthopoulos was the Blue Jays’ GM when they drafted Stroman in 2012. Less expensive possibilities in free agency could include ex-Brave Charlie Morton (who wants to stay on the East Coast), Adam Wainwright (whom the Braves have already contacted), Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi, J.A. Happ, Jose Quintana, James Paxton, Corey Kluber, Taijuan Walker and Atlanta resident Jon Lester, among others. The Rangers’ Lance Lynn should be popular in trade talks, as he’s due an ultra-affordable $8MM in 2021 and may appeal to Atlanta as another one-year fit.
As is the case with their rotation, the Braves’ bullpen will undergo changes in the coming months. There has already been one significant development with the team’s choice to decline its $3.5MM option over Darren O’Day. The move saved the Braves $3MM, but it still came as a surprise to see them part with O’Day in the wake of an outstanding season. He’s now a free agent along with Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Josh Tomlin, who joined O’Day in providing effective production in 2020.
While Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, Chris Martin and A.J. Minter will again be in the fold next season, the Braves will have to replace at least some of their departing relievers. There won’t be any shortage of options on the market, which is led by Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, Trevor May, Trevor Rosenthal and Blake Treinen. Alex Colome, Greg Holland, Kirby Yates and Jake McGee are also among those looking for work.
Along with handling outside business, it’s possible the Braves will attempt to extend superstar first baseman Freddie Freeman before next season. The franchise icon and career-long Brave is coming off his best season yet, one that should earn him NL MVP honors, and will enter a contract year in 2021. Freeman has said he’d like to remain a Brave (the feeling is surely mutual), though it’ll be costly for the club to keep him. The 31-year-old wouldn’t be out of line asking for a comparable extension to the five-year, $130MM guarantee the Cardinals gave first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in 2019. Of course, that was before the pandemic hit and damaged the game’s economy.
Locking up Freeman could certainly be on the Braves’ to-do list. He’ll be back in 2021 regardless, though, and it’s clear Anthopoulos has other work to do this offseason if he’s going to build a fourth straight division winner and a World Series-caliber roster.
Longtime Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright hopes to remain in St. Louis, but he’s keeping his options open as he nears a trip to free agency. That could mean returning to his native Georgia, as the Braves have interest in Wainwright and have already contacted him, David O’Brien of The Athletic reports.
This could be a full-circle move for Wainwright, who began his career with the Atlanta organization, even playing under current Braves manager Brian Snitker in Double-A ball. Wainwright never appeared in the majors for the Braves, though, as they traded him to the Cardinals in 2003 in a deal that sent outfielder J.D. Drew to Atlanta.
For St. Louis, the Wainwright acquisition couldn’t have worked out better. Now 39 years old, Wainwright’s a three-time All-Star, a World Series winner and a Cardinals icon who has provided the club 2,169 1/3 innings of 3.38 ERA/3.41 FIP pitching. He’s also third all-time for the team in wins with 167, trailing only Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines. And Wainwright showed this past season that he still has plenty to offer, as he amassed 65 2/3 frames of 3.15 ERA/4.11 FIP ball with 7.4 K/9 and 2.06 BB/9.
The type of production Wainwright put forth in 2020 would be welcome for the Braves, whose rotation dealt with its share of adversity. Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels, whom they were counting on to play major roles, each missed almost the entire season because of injuries; Mike Foltynewicz ended up on the outs; and several other options logged awful numbers over multiple starts.
Going forward, the good news for the Braves is that their rotation doesn’t appear to need a ton of help. While Hamels is a free agent, Soroka’s coming back to join Max Fried and Ian Anderson atop the Braves’ staff. That trio provides the team with an excellent top end of the rotation, and adding someone like Wainwright would give the Braves a more-than-capable No. 4 and a well-respected veteran who would be able to mentor their younger starters.