The Atlanta Braves continue to smack dingers and stack wins. There isn't a more entertaining team in baseball, stuffed with power hitters at every position and a potent group of gunslingers in the bullpen. At 80-44, the Braves have the best record in baseball and a 12.5-game lead over Philadelphia in the NL East.
A rare Braves loss on Monday night couldn't keep Atlanta from adding to its historic 2023 resume. Marcell Ozuna hit two homers, No. 24 and 25 on the season. He's the fifth player on the Braves' roster to hit 25-plus home runs this season. That has never happened in Braves history, until now.
Atlanta is now hot on the heels of the 2019 Minnesota Twins, the only team in MLB history to have five players hit at least 30 home runs. Ozuna has been a figure of off-field controversy in Atlanta since his arrival in 2020, but this season has rehabbed his image on the field.
As the Braves look toward the future, could Ozuna's bounce-back season lead to an offseason trade?
Marcell Ozuna and Atlanta Braves make history, but offseason trade rumors loom
The Braves awarded Ozuna's powerful bat with a four-year, $65 million contract ahead of the 2021 season. Since then, Ozuna has compounded off-field misdeeds with woeful production at the plate. From 2021-22, he averaged .222/.278/.397 at the plate with 30 homers and 82 RBI's in 715 plate appearances. That won't cut it.
This season has been a true return to form for the 32-year-old from Santo Domingo. His average is up to .251/.324/.492 and he is absolutely blasting the leather off the ball, to the tune of 25 home runs and 62 RBI's in 435 plate appearances. That's more in line with his contract amount. It also means his trade value is on the rise.
Odds are, Ozuna's trade value will never exceed its current level. His contract expires at the end of the 2024 season and, frankly, the odds of regression are higher than the odds of another monster season at the plate. As the Braves sift through the remarkable depth of talent on their roster, casulaties are inevitable. Atlanta could (wisely) decide to sell high on Ozuna to make room for others.
As FanSided's Mark Powell notes, Atlanta has two viable DH options with more long-term viability than Ozuna: Travis d'Arnaud (at his own contractual crossroads) and Vaughn Grissom, who continues to rack up multiple-base hits with Triple-A Gwinnett.
The Braves should want to keep d'Arnaud and his bat around, and that becomes easier to justify if Ozuna is out of the picture when free agent conversations begin this winter. Grissom, however, supplies the strongest motivation to trade Ozuna. The 22-year-old is considered Atlanta's brightest prospect, but his struggles in the field have kept him out of the big-league lineup. If the DH spot opens up, Grissom can apply his hitting talent to the MLB squad without worrying about errors in the infield.
Ozuna will continue his ample contributions to the Braves' unstoppable offense in the meantime, but expect trade rumors to heat up once the season ends. Atlanta has a ton of power hitters on the roster. There's reason to believe Ozuna's departure wouldn't be too deeply felt, and it would allow the Braves to restock at a position of need or pursue depth in the farm system.