Atlanta Braves manager expects to have a slugger back in 2022

Marcell Ozuna of the Atlanta Braves reacts to a play against the Washington Nationals from May 5, 2021. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Marcell Ozuna of the Atlanta Braves reacts to a play against the Washington Nationals from May 5, 2021. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

It’s easy to forget that the Atlanta Braves lost two significant offensive threat in the outfield last year.

No, the one we’re talking about today is not the one that first came to mind, though Ronald Acuna Jr. should also be back at some point.  But Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker appears to be expecting another outfielder to be back whenever the season starts.

Snitker’s comment came in a fun and candid interview with Jeff Schultz of TheAthletic (subscription required) in a story published on Groundhog Day.

In total, here is what he had to say on that subject:

[Q] It’s a far different situation, but with Marcell Ozuna eligible to return after his suspension following domestic violence charges, would you have any hesitation in him playing on your team?[A] No. As far as I know right now, he’s going to be there. He went through the process, and he’s been cleared to play. That’s all I care about. He’s in the Dominican, and I pull up the box scores, and it looks like he’s doing good. There’s a lot of guys out there, and it’s amazing how people forget. There’s a lot of guys who’ve played against us who’ve probably been in worse situations than he was. It seems like people have a tendency to forget or forgive. But that remains to be seen, too, I guess.

That sounds like a man who’s been told what he should expect, and there’s clearly no implication given/implied/to-be-deduced that the Braves are preparing to release Ozuna or anything of the sort.

Taken at face value, there’s a few implications:

(1) The Braves will have available to them at least 3 outfielders in Ozuna, Adam Duvall, and (eventually) Ronald Acuna Jr.

(2) The ideal use of these three players would be the positions of DH, LF, and RF, respectively… still leaving the club with no true centerfielder unless Cristian Pache is to get another shot at the position.

Barring a trade, another Pache experiment is genuinely possible anyway, given that Acuna is still likely to be a few weeks short of being Opening Day ready and that the Braves would prefer to protect him by keeping him in right field once he does return.

* – yes, we all know he was injured while playing right field, but it’s also clear that center field would require more of his legs than right field with all things being equal.

(3) Given the state of labor negotiations, we still can’t assume that the universal Designated Hitter will be a ‘thing’ in 2022.

If not, that pushes Ozuna into the left field position and makes Duvall the de facto center fielder.  Clearly, this is not the ideal positioning arrangement for defensive purposes, so Atlanta has to be rooting for the DH rule.

(4) While the fate of Freddie Freeman won’t be known until the lockout ends at some murky future point, the return of Ozuna — streaky as he might be — along with a lineup that includes Austin Riley, Acuna and Duvall does make for an offensive group that could be quite formidable.

Ed. note:  it’s really painful to have to consider life without Freeman.

Clearly, Freeman’s presence added in would make the Braves the odds-on favorite as the NL’s best offensive club, but his absence could be weathered should the Braves have to pivot toward someone like Anthony Rizzo.

Related Story. Options for DH. light

We’ll stop on the cascading speculations at this point since it’s an exercise that we clearly have a lot of extra time to consider, but the upshot is this: like it or not, Marcell Ozuna is still an Atlanta Brave.