We continue our free agent target series with Atlanta Braves legend and playoff hero, Eddie Rosario.
Few players in the history of the franchise have endeared themselves to the fanbase in such a short amount of time as Rosario did in 2021. After being acquired in a salary dump trade with Cleveland for Pablo Sandoval, yes Pablo Sandoval, Rosario played 33 games with Atlanta and was a force in the Braves lineup, posting a .903 OPS including 8 HRs in 106 ABs while striking out just 14% of the time. He immediately became a key contributor for the offense, coming up with big hits, hitting for the cycle, and balancing out their typically RH-heavy lineup with needed left-handed power. His addition, and subsequent performance, played a huge role in Atlanta chasing down the Mets and the Phillies in the division race, and ultimately winning NL East for the fourth year in a row.
But having a hot 33 games to end the regular season isn’t how you become a team legend. It was in Atlanta’s magical postseason run where Rosario will be most remembered. In 16 postseason games, Rosario posted a .383/.457/.617 triple slash line, a 182 wRC+, and specifically helped the Braves slay the mighty Dodgers in the NLCS, winning the NLCS MVP. For the rest of their lives, Braves’ fans will be watching and posting Rosario’s 3-run HR off Walker Buehler in Game 6 of the NLCS, or his running catch to preserve a 1-run lead late in Game 4 of the World Series. His regular season heroics were special. But it’s the playoff moments that secured his place in Braves history.
So the question becomes, could the Braves use Eddie Rosario in 2022?
The easy answer is yes. With Freddie Freeman still unsigned, the 2022 Braves don’t currently have a true left-handed hitter on their 40-man roster, and Rosario would fill an immediate need balancing out all those right-handed bats. At only 30 years old, Rosario is still in the prime of his career and is still years away from having to worry about his skills deteriorating. Now it’s important to note, the 133 wRC+ he put up in 33 games for Atlanta last year is not who he really is and the expectations should be nowhere near that. The Steamer projection system has him pegged around a 107 wRC+ next year, still above average, and even at that production, he’d be positive in the lineup or off the bench.
Where it gets complicated for the Braves and Rosario is Atlanta already has Adam Duvall and Ronald Acuña Jr under contract for corner outfield spots next year, and have Marcell Ozuna under contract for either LF or the DH spot that’s expected to come in the next CBA. This means, currently, there’s not a clear spot where Rosario could play. Technically, Acuña could play centerfield, opening up a corner spot that Rosario could fill nicely, but it’s still unsure how comfortable the team would be with that arrangement with Acuña coming back from a major knee injury. The conventional wisdom has been the Braves will probably prefer to keep Acuña in right field next season to limit the stress on his surgically repaired knee. Duvall also has some experience in center field, as he played there all throughout the postseason, and he could in theory play there in 2022, again freeing up a corner outfield spot for Rosario. But as athletic and solid a defender as Duvall is, it would be surprising if the team was comfortable with him being the full-time centerfielder. If Rosario was a true centerfielder, this would be any easy fit. But as another corner option, it’s much more complicated.
Because Rosario didn’t play a full season last year, and his 2022 projection are in the modest range, the price to sign him should stay fairly reasonable. Most are expecting some sort of 1-year deal, probably somewhere around eight or ten million. Could be even less if it gets too far into spring training before he signs. No one knows what the signing frenzy after the lockout ends is going to look like, and some guys might sign smaller deals just to guarantee them a major league spot for 2022. The good news is, at that price range, you don't necessarily have to have a full-time spot immediately open for Rosario to justify signing him. Even as a part-time player with Duvall, or even a form of outfield insurance or bench depth, his next contract shouldn't be much of a deterrent.
Of course the argument for not signing him is, with a 1-year deal probable, he wouldn’t be a guy terribly expensive to trade for in 2022, should the need arise as it did in 2021. And by then, you’d know how Acuña’s knee is holding up and what kind of years Duvall and Ozuna are having. Still, waiting is a risk.
The truth is, signing Rosario is going to have more to do with the team’s payroll situation after the Freeman saga has concluded and after they decide what to do in centerfield next year. Once those two dominos fall, whether to bring Eddie back or not will be much clearer. Fans would probably be on board with signing him either way. The guy just helped the Braves win a World Series. He’ll be welcome here this rest of his career.