Atlanta Braves, MLB Hot Stove, Texas Rangers

This Braves-Rangers trade could give Atlanta perfect replacement for Marcell Ozuna

If the Atlanta Braves pivot to outright replacing Marcell Ozuna, a deal with the Texas Rangers could land them the perfect replacement.

Coming off their first trip to the NLCS in nearly 20 years, the Atlanta Braves have added Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to the pitching staff this offseason. With Marcell Ozuna a free agent and lined up to cash in, the Braves may now shift their focus to filling a looming hole in the lineup.

Ozuna had a fantastic 2020 campaign, with a .338/.431/.636 slash-line (1.067 OPS) along with an NL-leading 18 home runs and 56 RBI. He split his time between DH (39 games) and the corner outfield spots (19 in left field, two games in right). He’s not a great defensive outfielder, but his bat surely plays for American League teams who can DH him regularly (with the universal DH still in play too).

On the other end of the spectrum, there is the Texas Rangers. Some notable moves last offseason didn’t pan out, and they finished with the worst record in the American League (22-38). Now, absent the revenue boost a new ballpark would have normally yielded in 2020, they are set to reduce payroll this offseason.

The Braves could acquire Ozuna’s replacement from the Rangers

In 2017 and 2018, Joey Gallo hit 41 and 40 home runs respectively. He started 2019 well, becoming the fastest player in American League history to reach 100 career home runs in early May (377 games; third-fastest in major league history). He earned his first career All-Star selection, with 20 home runs in the first half of the season. Then a right wrist injury limited him to just nine games post-All-Star break.

Gallo had a down 2020 campaign at the plate, posting a .181/.301/.378 slash-line with 10 home runs and 26 RBI. A bout with COVID-19 shortened his Summer Camp, and a right wrist issue came up again (soreness). It’s clear he’s never going to threaten to win a batting title, with 2019’s .253 average over 70 games as his career-best mark. But he did strikeout a little bit less in 2020 (35 percent) than he had previously.

After moving around the diamond and around the outfield in 2019, Gallo settled in as the Rangers’ right fielder in 2020 (53 games). All he did was post 12 Defensive Runs Saved with a 6.1 UZR on his way to winning his first career Gold Glove.

Gallo’s name was out there at the Aug. 31 trade deadline, but the Rangers’ asking price was surely high and nothing happened. If there’s a concerted effort to reduce payroll this offseason, Gallo is a tradeable asset.

Gallo has two more years of team control left before hitting free agency. Spotrac has him projected to make $5.75 million in 2021, with MLB Trade Rumors coming with a lower projection ($5.3 million). It’s going to be fairly inexpensive to bet on Gallo rebounding offensively next year, and his 2019 work shows his outfield defense is sustainably good.

The Braves still have some room to spend this offseason if they want to. Pivoting to Gallo as a corner outfielder option is an upgrade over Ozuna defensively, and offensively it’s probably no worse than a wash. Gallo is also younger, having just celebrated his 27th birthday (Nov. 19), while Ozuna turned 30 earlier this month. Gallo can probably be secured, barring an extension/raise, for a total of $12-$15 million over the next two years. Ozuna may get in that range per year in a multi-year deal this offseason.

Here’s a deal the Braves could do to bring Gallo aboard.

Braves Get

OF Joey Gallo

Rangers Get

LHP Tucker Davidson

OF Terone Harris

It’s certain outfielders Christian Pace and Drew Waters, their top two prospects and top-25 prospects in baseball, are rich for the Braves to give up in the deal of Gallo. But they still give up two top-15 prospects from a system that entered 2020 as a top-10 system, helping the Rangers add talent to their own system that isn’t as good or as deep. Davidson and Harris could both contribute in the big leagues next season.

If the Rangers make Gallo available this offseason, the Braves are in a good position to get him. They could offer a third lower prospect to give themselves an edge or tighten up an offer with higher-end prospects (shy of Pache and Waters) without hurting themselves either way.

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