With Marcell Ozuna out indefinitely because of an injury and probable suspension, the Atlanta Braves will have to be creative in their bid for a fourth straight National League East crown.
The Dominican slugger, batting between Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies in the Atlanta lineup, fractured two fingers in an all-fated slide into Boston third baseman Rafael Devers Tuesday night at Fenway Park. Then he was arrested Saturday in his Sandy Springs, Georgia home for alleged domestic battery — triggering an MLB investigation.
Replacing a No. 3 will be hard. And replacing a bat that produced the most home runs, total bases, and runs batted in last season will be next to impossible.
But there are a variety of possibilities. Here are five of them:
- Bring back Nick Markakis — An Atlanta resident who retired last winter when his contract expired, Markakis is a former Gold Glove outfielder who swings a solid left-handed bat, even though he’s more likely to hit doubles than home runs. He’s only played for two teams, the Orioles and Braves, but was an All-Star starter in 2018. Quiet and humble — in stark contrast to the boisterous Ozuna — Markakis, 37, is well-liked and well-respected in the Atlanta clubhouse.
- Move Austin Riley — Currently the hottest hitter in the Braves lineup, Riley hit his 10th home run during a rain-delayed, 9-5 loss to the Red Sox Wednesday night. He’s also done a yeoman’s job at third base, has his average well over .300, and has a clear shot at making the National League All-Star team for the first time. He’s played left field, where Ozuna was stationed, and has a much better throwing arm (Ozuna has a surgically-repaired shoulder). If the Braves want to save money, they can play Johan Camargo, a versatile switch-hitter, at third and move Riley to left until Ozuna returns.
- Trade for David Peralta — With Arizona going nowhere, the Braves could replace one Venezuelan with another. His power numbers have declined steadily since his career-best 30-h0mer season four years ago but he currently leads the NL with five triples. Like Markakis, he bats left-handed.
- Acquire Justin Upton — A former Brave and a former All-Star, this 33-year-old right-handed outfielder is having a terrible year (.204 so far) for the Angels, a bottom-feeder team that would be willing to eat part of his exorbitant contract in exchange for a couple of pitching prospects (possibly including 2020 postseason stud Kyle Wright).
- Make music with Mancini — Before re-signing Ozuna in February, the Braves entertained thoughts of trading for Trey Mancini, who hit 35 homers in 2019 but missed all of 2020 while recuperating from cancer. A right-handed bat, he’s back this year — but his Baltimore Orioles are back in the basement too. Again, prospects should do the trick.
Are there other options too? Of course there are!
The Braves could swallow their pride and beg the Miami Marlins to give back Adam Duvall, whose 16 homers in 60 games for Atlanta last year included two three-homer games. Duvall, a solid outfielder with a strong arm, has been batting cleanup and wielding a timely bat for the Fish, who have their eyes on a return to postseason play. The price to get him would be high, however, so the Braves would probably prefer an internal option.
If Atlanta manager Brian Snitker weren’t so hesitant about switching portly Pablo Sandoval from pinch-hitter de luxe to starting third baseman, he could add a strong switch-hitting presence there and move Riley to left field. There would be no extra cost involved, though the Panda might have to go on a crash diet as part of the deal. He’s played less than a handful of innings at the infield corners this year.
The Braves also have Ehire (pronounced E-Day) Adrianza, yet another switch-hitter from Venezuela who’s been productive in the pinch this year. One of his two pinch-homers (Sandoval has four) came with the bases loaded. Adrianza, in his first year with the Braves, made the team during spring training and has played almost everywhere but catcher and pitcher since.
No matter what Snitker and general manager Alex Anthopoulos decide, their decision is bound to make life interesting in a division that’s been wracked by injuries during the first two months.
The New York Mets have 17 players on the injured list, the Washington Nationals have lost Juan Soto and Jon Lester for varying lengths of time, and the Philadelphia Phillies have cringed as Bryce Harper spent several stints on the IL, where he resides today.
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