Once again this offseason, Ronald Acuña Jr. will trade in his Atlanta Braves uniform for that of Tiburones de La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League. This year, however, will be a little different for the outfielder in South America.
Acuna, who is expected to win the National League MVP award on Thursday night after a season where he became the first-ever MLB player to hit 40 or more home runs and steal 70 or more bases, says that he will play winter ball for Tiburones "without restrictions" in the upcoming weeks. Last year, after recovering from knee surgery, Acuña played in just 10 games for Tiburones, slashing .441/.513/.647 in 39 plate appearances.
It's clear that the Braves have given the green light for Acuña to not only play in Venezuela, but also to do it in whatever way he and the team feels that gives them the best chance at winning. But is this a good strategy for the Braves?
Should the Atlanta Braves be more careful this offseason with Ronald Acuña Jr.?
Certainly there is nothing wrong with Acuña playing for his hometown team. However, both he and the Braves have to realize that there is a chance of injury every time he steps on the field. Ask Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros about that after Altuve's fractured thumb during an at-bat in the World Baseball Classic delayed his regular-season debut.
The Braves have already had to play without Acuña, having to rebuild their entire outfield after his ACL injury in the middle of the 2021 campaign changed everything about Atlanta's roster. Acuña watched from the dugout as the Braves captured the World Series. The franchise knows how valuable he is to the team, even without any kind of MVP voting ... and that's perhaps what makes these next few weeks in Venezuela make every Braves fan hold their collective breath.
Sure, an Acuña injury a worst-case scenario, but it's also a possibility that the outfielder and the Braves are seemingly willing to accept.