ATLANTA — Marcell Ozuna and the Atlanta Braves are sticking together.
The Braves have signed the 30-year-old slugger from the Dominican Republic to a $65 million, four-year contract, hanging on to his powerful bat for the middle of their lineup.
The Braves announced the deal for Ozuna, who led the National League in home runs and RBIs this past season, on Friday — less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers are set to report for spring training. The deal includes a fifth-year club option for $16 million with a $1 million buyout.
Ozuna signed an $18 million, one-year free-agent deal with Atlanta last year, then put together the best offensive season of an MLB career that started with the Miami Marlins (2013-17) and continued with the St. Louis Cardinals (2018-19). Ozuna finished sixth in NL MVP voting last year after he batted .338 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs — narrowly missing out on a Triple Crown — and posted a career-best 1.067 on-base plus slugging percentage as he started all 60 games in the coronavirus-altered regular season.
Ozuna made 39 of those starts as Atlanta's designated hitter after the NL adopted the DH as one of the adjustments amid the pandemic.
Major League Baseball proposed renewing the universal DH in talks with the players association last week, but the union rejected the proposal, which also would have delayed the start of the regular season and expanded the postseason field. It's still possible the sides agree to restore the DH this year, or during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement after this season.
Ozuna also helped the Braves win their third straight NL East Division title, and they went all seven games in the NL Championship Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who went on to win the World Series.
"My power came because I'm healthy," Ozuna said after the season. "... I just came ready and give my best to my teammates, and let's go play."
Ozuna would open the season as Atlanta's projected starter in left field if the DH is not reinstated. Even if the chances to use him as a DH are limited, Ozuna's value to the Braves in the clubhouse and as lineup protection for 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman was crucial to the team's hopes of making another run for the World Series.
The deal drew immediate approval from Freeman, who posted on his Twitter account "love this!! Let's go!"
Ozuna was respected and liked by teammates, including young starters Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
"I'm a guy that's got a couple years in the big leagues, and they give much respect to me and I give respect to them," Ozuna said. "We have respect together. We have success. It's not because they are Latin guys. It's because they are my teammates."
With Ozuna locked in, Atlanta will return essentially the same lineup that finished second in the majors with 348 runs last year, just one behind the Dodgers. The Braves have also added to their pitching staff by signing two veterans to one-year deals — Charlie Morton for $15 million and Drew Smyly for $11 million.