This has been a solid but injury-shortened season for Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who ranks among the game’s best pending free-agent position players. Although Ozuna could have a chance to shop his services around the majors in a few months, the soon-to-be 29-year-old would like to remain with the Cardinals, Mark Saxon of The Athletic writes (subscription required).
“I hope to stay here,” Ozuna told Saxon. “Let’s see how the season goes and how much I can help the team, but my preference is to stay here. I like the team, the city of St. Louis, everything. Maybe at the end of the season, we can get something done. Let’s see how the team finishes.”
The Cardinals, however, aren’t prepared to discuss an extension yet. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak told Saxon it’s “good to hear” Ozuna wants to remain a Redbird, but he added, “We will focus on this in the offseason.”
If the two sides don’t reach an agreement before the market opens, the Cardinals are likely to slap a qualifying offer on Ozuna as he potentially prepares to depart. That would be a pricey move on the team’s part (the QO was worth $17.9MM last offseason), but Ozuna is on the way to justifying the investment with another respectable showing.
Now in his second year with the Cardinals, the former Marlin has slashed .252/.329/.505 (115 wRC+) with 1.6 fWAR over 346 plate appearances in 2019. Ozuna missed just over a month this summer with multiple finger fractures, but he has still piled up 21 home runs. His prodigious power has helped make him a favorite of Statcast, which places Ozuna anywhere from the league’s 79th to 98th percentile in expected batting average, expected weighted on-base average, expected slugging percentage, average exit velocity and hard-hit rate.
Aside from J.D. Martinez, primarily a designated hitter, Ozuna may be the premier corner outfield-capable player with the potential to become a free agent. Martinez definitely isn’t a lock to opt out of the remaining three years and $62.5MM left on his contract with Boston, though. Conversely, Ozuna’s very likely to face competition from fellow pending free-agent corner outfielders Nicholas Castellanos and Yasiel Puig – two just-traded players who won’t be eligible for qualifying offers – and maybe Kole Calhoun if the Angels decline his $14MM option.
For their part, the Cardinals don’t appear to have any outfielders as appealing as Ozuna right now. That could influence the club to try to bring Ozuna back, though St. Louis is likely mindful that its recent big-money contracts for veteran position players haven’t paid off to this point. The Cardinals have issues a combined $311.5MM in guarantees to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, catcher Yadier Molina, third baseman Matt Carpenter and outfielder Dexter Fowler dating back to December 2016. All four of those players have experienced marked declines in production since receiving their deals, which helps explain why the Cardinals aren’t in possession of a National League playoff spot at the moment.