Pending free-agent left fielder Marcell Ozuna has made it known he’d prefer to re-sign with the Cardinals, but it doesn’t look likely with free agency approaching. The Cardinals won’t be making an effort to re-up Ozuna to a long-term contract before the market opens in a couple weeks, Mark Saxon of The Athletic writes (subscription link). They are, however, likely to issue Ozuna a $17.8MM qualifying offer, according to Saxon.
If the Cardinals do hit Ozuna with a QO and he accepts, they’ll keep him for 2020. Otherwise, rejecting would enable Ozuna to head to free agency as arguably the most appealing corner outfielder available in a class that will also include Nicholas Castellanos and Yasiel Puig, among others. In a best-case scenario for Ozuna, St. Louis will pass on doling out the QO, as saddling him with one would force another team to give up draft-pick compensation in signing him. As we’ve seen in recent offseasons, clubs generally aren’t enthusiastic about losing draft capital while simultaneously having to fork over a sizable contract.
In the event Ozuna does get to free agency with a QO attached, he’ll still have a case for one of the offseason’s top paydays. Set to turn 29 next month, Ozuna’s coming off his fifth season with at least 2.6 fWAR since he debuted with the Marlins in 2013. Ozuna continued a trend of above-average (but not spectacular) offensive production in 2019, as he slashed .243/.330/.474 with 29 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 549 plate appearances. If we’re to believe Statcast, there may be more in the tank – Ozuna’s expected weighted on-base average (.379) far outpaced his real wOBA (.340) and ranked in the majors’ 91st percentile. He was also near the apex of the league in average exit velocity (91.8 mph; 93rd percentile) and hard-hit percentage (49.2; 96th percentile), among other Statcast metrics.
While Ozuna hasn’t been able to replicate the star-caliber 2017 he enjoyed with the Marlins during his two years as a Cardinal, his output would still be a challenge for the Redbirds to replace. St. Louis does have several other outfielders in the mix, though, and it’s not a guarantee the club will aggressively pursue outside help in the wake of an Ozuna exit. With Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Tommy Edman, Jose Martinez, Lane Thomas, Yairo Munoz, Randy Arozarena and high-end prospect Dylan Carlson among options under control for next season, the Cardinals “have no intention of adding to the outfield glut” this winter, Saxon writes.