Free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna is “very unlikely” to accept the $17.8MM qualifying offer made to him by the Cardinals, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Ozuna was seen as one of the few recipients who could consider accepting the one-year deal, but Heyman suggests that there is a robust market for Ozuna’s services.
While it was perhaps never likely that Ozuna would take the qualifying offer to stick around in St. Louis for another year, he stood out as one of the ten QO recipients who could be a candidate to accept in lieu of entering the open market. Ozuna’s retractors might pin the outfielder as one of the hitters who could suffer most in baseball’s notoriously stingy free agency; as a solid but unspectacular hitter who won’t carry a lineup and who doesn’t stand out on defense, critics might put him in Mike Moustakas territory.
That’s not to say he doesn’t offer any value. Ozuna is just two years removed from a breakout season in Miami’s pitcher-friendly ballpark. While he’s no longer the Gold Glover he was in 2017, Ozuna still grades out solidly as a defensive outfielder. By free agent standards, he’s on the younger side, and there’s reason to believe that he’s capable of more than the .241/.328/.472 line he posted in his second year in St. Louis; his .382 expected wOBA far outclassed his actual .336 mark, suggesting that Ozuna’s true talent level is a notch above his Cardinals output.
Assuming that Ozuna indeed elects to hit free agency, it’s not a foregone conclusions that the 28-year-old will play in a new uniform next year. Ozuna has expressed his desire to remain with the Cardinals, and while the organization has been less steadfast in their interest, it has been recently reported that the two sides are prepared to discuss a multiyear contract. By virtue of extending the QO, the club has demonstrated a willingness to keep Ozuna at a considerable cost, but only for one year—we’ll see how far they’re willing to go on a multiyear commitment.
Otherwise, Ozuna will reach free agency for the first time with a compensatory draft pick attached to him. We’ve seen in recent years that this additional price has been a deterrent for mid-range free agents, and Ozuna’s market will no doubt take a hit as a result, though to what extent it’s not clear. Regardless of the draft pick, Ozuna has plenty of desirable qualities that should make him an attractive target to a flurry of clubs, like Heyman notes; MLBTR projects Ozuna to receive a three year, $45MM contract—while that’s a lower projection that other outlets, such a deal would still give Ozuna the second-highest payday among free agent corner outfielders (behind only Nick Castellanos).