St. Louis Cardinals: If not Ozuna, then who in 2020?

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - MAY 18: Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals scores a run in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 18, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - MAY 18: Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals scores a run in the fifth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 18, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Marcell Ozuna will be a free agent after 2019 and the St. Louis Cardinals are being coy about whether they will re-sign the 28-year-old outfielder. What happens if the Cardinals let Ozuna walk during the offseason?

It’s September and outfielder Marcell Ozuna still doesn’t have an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals to extend him past 2019. Even though Ozuna has stated he wants to stay in St. Louis, reportedly the Cardinals haven’t contacted his new agent about a new contract.

In some quarters, among Cardinal fans, this is disappointing. After all the Dominican Republic native currently leads the team in RBIs (81), SLG (.496), and OPS (.830). What makes his RBI lead on the Cardinals even more impressive, is he spent a month on the IL with a fractured right middle finger.

So we start to ask ourselves, who will the St. Louis Cardinals replace Marcell Ozuna’s likely production of 30 HR and 90 RBI with next year? Will the replacement be internal, free agency or a trade? There are options for all three scenarios. However, which would be the best for the Cardinals?

Young internal options, ready or not.

There are internal options that are promising, but unproven at the major league level. This list includes Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, Adolis Garcia, and Dylan Carlson. Bader and O’Neill have had the most MLB experience of this group, while Thomas and Arozarena have had limited appearances in 2019.

Garcia, in the meantime, played in 21 games in 2018 with the Cardinals but has spent all of 2019 in the Minors, splitting time between AA and AAA. The franchise’s new Wonderkind, 20-year-old Carlson, has yet to make a major league appearance, arriving at AAA Memphis just before the end of the season.

All these prospects are promising and it could be one of them, in the future, will be the 30 HR and 90-100 RBI guy like Ozuna. However, it’s too early to know for sure. Remember the hype around Randal Grichuk and Colby Rasmus?

Then there’s…..

Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez. Experience for sure, but neither of them is likely to replace Ozuna’s production. Fowler is in a comeback year in 2019, but at his best, a 15-18 HR and 50-60 RBI type of player.

Meanwhile, Jose Martinez has seemed to become a pinch-hit specialist for the Cardinals in 2019. His best year was in 2018 where he played in 152 games and hit 17 HR and 83 RBI. Certainly not bad, but still not the power of a Marcell Ozuna.

And there’s the new ‘fan-favorite’ Tommy Edman. The 24-year-old-who-looks-younger-than- most-little-leaguers, has played 12 games in the outfield so far in 2019. Defensively, he doesn’t look bad and has provided a needed spark for the Cardinals offense. But again, he will never replace Ozuna’s offensive production.

So where does that leave us?

How about Jay Bruce?

If the St. Louis Cardinals let Marcell Ozuna walk, then the best option for the Cardinals could be to try to either trade or sign a player in the short term to allow one of their young prospects to develop further.

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There are options in the free agent and trade market the birds-on-a-bat could bring in for a one or two years just to buy time.

The Phillies’ Jay Bruce is the most interesting option for me and could be a good fit for the Redbirds in the short-term. The 32-year-old left-handed bat currently has 25 HR and 58 RBI with a .226 BA. His OPS in 2019 is .814, which is in the ballpark with Ozuna’s .819, and his .541 SLG betters Ozuna’s .489. Comparatively, Bruce’s career metrics line up well with Ozuna’s in SLG, OBP, and OPS.

Bruce’s 3yr/$39M contract with the Phillies ends in 2020 and therefore a trade would need to be made to acquire the Beaumont Texas native. The remaining $13M on Bruce’s contract wouldn’t be a problem for the Cardinals to absorb for one year, and the cost of an outfield prospect shouldn’t be an issue for a franchise currently with plenty to spare.

The Phillies are going young and a young outfield prospect from the Cardinals should be attractive to them. So a trade of Bruce for either a Lane Thomas, a Tyler O’Neill, or an Adolis Garcia would be reasonable.

So Finally…

Trading for a Jay Bruce or convincing Marcell Ozuna to take a Qualifying Offer would be the best option for the St. Louis Cardinals. It would give the franchise another year to see if one of their young outfield prospects will turn into…well…the next Marcell Ozuna.

I wouldn’t count on Ozuna to take a Qualifying Offer. Even though he’s expressed a desire to stay in St. Louis, I wouldn’t expect Ozuna to turn down a multi-year contract with another franchise.

Next. Remembering a trade that almost was. dark

Other Free Agent or Trade options available would be likely too costly as far as the Cardinals are concerned. The FA list would include Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig, and J.D. Martinez. The trade list could include Mookie Betts, Whit Merrifield, and Kris Bryant, among others. The St. Louis Cardinals need at least one more year to find out who their next power-hitting-rbi-machine will be. Bringing in Jay Bruce could give them the time they need.