St. Louis Cardinals: Marcell Ozuna’s options are dwindling
Marcell Ozuna is a free agent and the St. Louis Cardinals haven’t gone full in on retaining him. However, Ozuna’s other landing spots are drying up.
During the 2019 season, it seemed that the St. Louis Cardinals made it relatively clear that they weren’t hugely interested in bringing back Marcell Ozuna for the years or money that he was already beginning to be rumored to be in line for.
Even after he publicly came out and said he wanted to remain in St. Louis, the Cardinals neglected to comment although it was a reassuring thing to hear.
Since the Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna, he hasn’t been overly amazing at anything, despite putting up okay numbers in the cleanup spot. In 2018 and 2019, he had a combined 107 OPS+, .262/.327/.451 slash line with 52 homers and about 89 RBIs a year. He hit homers, he drove in runs, but as you can see from the OPS+, he wasn’t really that far above average overall offensively and was wildly streaky.
Nevertheless, Ozuna has been rumored to be due anywhere from $15-20M a year for four or five years. The Cardinals were right to not sign him right away to those deals as he is not due that in my opinion, but they could be circling back around.
With lots of young outfielders on the roster, the team seems committed to letting the kids play to see if Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, or one of a couple of others would step up and grab the left field job. While Ozuna may not have been that far above average, he does have the on-paper counting stats that prove that he can do a reasonable job of protecting Paul Goldschmidt at the cleanup spot.
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By not signing Ozuna, the Cardinals would be betting that one of those young outfielders could replicate or beat those numbers from Ozuna, which I believe is a good bet.
At the beginning of the offseason, Ozuna declined the Cardinals’ qualifying offer and now has a draft pick attached to him. As the offseason has gone on though, his suitors keep dropping like flies.
At one point there were anywhere from five to seven suitors for Ozuna (who is widely regarded as one of the top two free-agent outfielders) but now there may only be three. The Cardinals said themselves, they are in (presumably at their number and years they are comfortable with) until Ozuna says they are out or he signs elsewhere. With the Cardinals are the rival Reds and the Rangers. Those are the only three left.
This strategy has worked before
Way back in the 2009-2010 offseason, a season after the Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday, the Cardinals played the situation similarly. The team clearly wanted to keep Holliday but were unwilling to pay the star what he initially was asking for.
Staying on the “periphery” of Holliday’s market all winter, John Mozeliak hung in there until all the other suitors for Holliday found better/cheaper options, leaving the Cardinals to swoop in and sign him to the seven-year, $120M deal that kept him in St. Louis for the majority of his career.
That worked out for John Mozeliak then, and it seems like he is playing the same hand now. It’s very different in terms of the caliber of player and the length and price of the deal, but it could just work to get Marcell Ozuna back in a Redbirds jersey.
As far as how that deal would look, that is still to be seen, but if the Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, that could be a huge development in Ozuna’s chances to return and I wouldn’t expect it to be for more than a year or two. With no other suitors, Ozuna’s leverage would be basically gone.
If the Cardinals were to resign Ozuna, the kids would have to compete for the center field or right field jobs which would ultimately bring about a better total team.