During their run to a World Series Championship in 2021, the Atlanta Braves saw the absolute best version of outfielder Eddie Rosario. Atlanta acquired him from Cleveland at the trade deadline while he was on the injured list for what amounted to a salary dump. Once he returned from the injured list, he played a major part in the Braves’ late season push for a fourth division championship and that hot streak carried over into the postseason. Rosario was named MVP of the NLCS against the Dodgers after going 14-for-25 with three home runs and nine RBI. He cooled off at the plate in the World Series, but made a tremendous play in left field in Game 4 to help preserve a 3-2 win over the Astros that gave Atlanta a 3-1 advantage in the series.
Coming off of that excellent performance, Rosario entered free agency at the right time and the Braves elected to bring him back on a two-year, $18 million deal that also includes a club option for 2024. The hope was that Rosario would man one of the corner outfield spots before settling into left field once Ronald Acuña Jr. was ready to return from injury.
It sounded good, but it didn’t actually work out they way it was planned. Rosario got off to a horrid start going 3-for-44 over his first 15 games. Despite his defensive heroics in the World Series, Rosario has never been viewed as a strong defender, but his defense lagged as he was charged with three errors in those first 15 games and had several other plays where he either took bad routes or misjudged balls altogether.
Atlanta announced on April 25 that Rosario was going on the injured list and would undergo a laser eye procedure to correct blurred vision and swelling in his right eye. That would seemingly explain a lot of his early season struggles. Rosario would miss the next two months of the season, but would return to the lineup on July 4. However, his struggles continued as he hit just .243/.281/.379 with five home runs the rest of the way.
Rosario ended up appearing in 80 games and hit .212/.259/.328 with five home runs and a 61 wRC+. He was the least valuable Braves player in terms of FanGraphs WAR -1.1. To further put that in context, Marcell Ozuna was worth -0.6 fWAR. Certainly not what the Braves were planning when they locked up Rosario for two seasons.
So, the question for Rosario is, was the 2022 season just an anomaly or was it something more. As Atlanta transitions to the offseason, it would appear that Rosario is penciled in to start in left field in 2023. He saw limited opportunities against left-handed pitching in 2022 going just 4-for-28. The Braves could look to add a right-handed compliment to form a platoon.
The picture of course could change significantly this offseason. Atlanta will have $27 million tied up in Ozuna and Rosario for the 2023 season. They could look to dump Ozuna or could simply walk away from him entirely. Moving on from Ozuna would hypothetically open up possible DH at-bats for Rosario.
To get those plate appearances though, Rosario simply has to be better. Regression was always coming for Rosario who was red hot during the stretch run in 2021, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted this bad of struggles. When looking back at the Braves’ 2022 season, you see a 100-win club despite the struggles of Rosario and Ozuna and that is before we even talk about the pitching side where Ian Anderson ends up back in the minors. It certainly adds some perspective.
The good news for the Braves in regards to Rosario is that his deal was a short one. He will have the opportunity to have a normal offseason and a full spring training to prove that 2021 was just an outlier.