In stark contrast to the previous two offseasons, the 2019-2020 winter has moved quickly, and now, after the signings of Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos, the free agency pool is all but dried up.
The top name left on the market, Yasiel Puig, perfectly illustrates the sort of options that still remain for teams looking to upgrade in free agency. There is still some upside to be found, but if a team wants to add a real impact player, it will have to look to the trade market, which is beginning to become increasingly active. Let’s take a look at the impact these most recent free agent signings may have on their new clubs.
Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves, 1 year, $18 million
Ozuna’s contract, which exceeded his qualifying offer from the Cardinals by only $200,000, mirrors the deals signed by Josh Donaldson and Yasmani Grandal last season. Ozuna is hoping to rebuild some of his value on a short deal in order to earn his long-term deal after the 2020 season.
For the Braves, the deal presents little risk. Ozuna satisfies their need for a power bat to plug the lineup hole left by Donaldson’s departure, and Ozuna’s 2017 season in which he posted 5.0 fWAR demonstrates the sort of production he has been capable of in the past.
Last season, he posted a career-high 11.3% walk rate, though his .243 batting average was a career low. His .259 BABIP suggests some unfortunate batted ball luck in 2019, and it would not be surprising to see his wRC+ rise to the 120-125 range in 2020, especially considering the fact that he will no longer be playing 81 games in the pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium.
Ozuna will take over duties in left field, where he has usually played serviceable defense, though he struggled a bit there in 2020. Atlanta will experiment with utilityman Johan Camargo and the developing Austin Riley at third base, and overall, the production that the Ozuna deal projects to create will roughly replace the value Donaldson provided for the Braves last season.
Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds, 4 years, $64 million
The Reds have pushed in their chips, and with good reason. The NL Central is set up to be the most tightly contested division in baseball next season, with the Reds, Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers are all capable of winning the division crown.
Castellanos struggled with the Tigers in the first half of last season, but once he was traded to the Cubs, he caught fire, posting a 176 wRC+ in the month of August. The Reds are betting on his bat staying hot and carrying his value, as his defense is atrocious. In 2018, he posted -24 OAA (Outs Above Average), the worst total in MLB. Though he improved to -8 OAA last season, he still finished 78th in MLB in that category.
The Castellanos deal is a bit of head-scratcher for the Reds, as they were already deep at the outfield position, but they still have time to trade one of their many starting-quality outfielders to upgrade at a position of weakness. Though it seems like a longshot, some have suggested that Cincinnati may try to trade Nick Senzel, a former top-10 prospect, in a deal to acquire shortstop Francisco Lindor from the Indians.
With about two months to go before Opening Day, there is still plenty of time for several big names to find new homes. Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are all rumored to be available, and though free agency has more or less ended, the trade market could get interesting in a hurry.