Better late than never: Ozuna signing vital for Braves

Associated PressAtlanta Braves' Marcell Ozuna celebrates a RBI-single against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the eighth inning in Game 4 of a baseball National League Championship Series Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in Arlington, Texas.

It was better late than never as they say. The long courtship that the Atlanta Braves had with Marcell Ozuna, the outfielder-designated hitter (DH) who bet on himself last season and capitalized on a one-year deal with the National League East champions, re-signed with the team on Friday, a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

While the issue over whether the DH rule will stay in effect for the National League for the 2021 season remains a mystery, signing Ozuna was essential, even if the Braves have to play him in left field where he could be a potential liability.

Ozuna's signing provides some comfort for Braves fans who were wary the lineup would take a step back heading into the upcoming season. A top three of Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman and Ozuna looks just as potent as a year ago when the Braves finished 35-25 and won the division for the third straight year. The Braves can slot Ozuna behind Freeman, the reigning Most Valuable Player, in the lineup, which was the best 1-2 punch in the game last year.

The Braves could be as potent as last year but a lot still rests on the bat of Austin Riley. While I still have reservations about him being the team's third baseman; your everyday third baseman shouldn't have to hit at the bottom of the lineup but Riley's 157 strikeouts in 131 games is a big reason why. Even after Ozuna's signing, a potential upgrade at the hot corner could be in order and might be worth the consideration.

The question now is where does the Braves sit in the pecking order of the National League's elite? The reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers are even better following the signing of National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. He and Walker Buehler form a devastating 1-2 punch atop the rotation.

The San Diego Padres are also even better after adding veteran pitchers Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Their pitching rotation could rival the Dodgers for the best in the N.L.

The Braves likely have just as good a team as last year. They have the same lineup. The signings of Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly upgraded the rotation. It has the potential to be great by the end of the season if Ian Anderson thrives in his first full season on the mound and Mike Soroka fully recovers from a torn ACL. The bullpen might need tinkering before October rolls around.

Ozuna's signing was needed, and it was expected. With the moves the two teams out west made to improve, the Braves needed to keep pace. This was an easy way to do that.

Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.

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