Outfielder Marcell Ozuna is set to have an intriguing free agency. The Scott Boras client turned down the qualifying offer from the St Louis Cardinals, setting him up for a potentially long offseason. Craig Kimbrel rejected a qualifying offer in 2018/19 and had to wait until the summer to sign for a team. While Ozuna is unlikely to be left on the market that long, those draft picks attached to him make it hard to see a fit.
Ozuna was an All-Star, fringe MVP contender and Gold Glove winner in 2017. He’s been above league average offensively in his two years as a Cardinal, though not by much. Defensively, he’s dropped off a cliff, ranking in the 10th percentile in Statcast’s Outs Above Average.
The enormous contract that seemed probable after 2017 will not be getting offered, but there’s likely a solid two or three-year deal out there for Ozuna. These three teams should be at the front of the queue…
Frequently discussed on our baseball podcast, the Colorado Rockies are under pressure to compete after signing Nolan Arenado to that monster extension. Colorado were 27th in wins above average from the outfield positions in 2019. Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl are superb hitters, but Raimel Tapia and Ian Desmond were a long way below league average. Defence is a concern for Blackmon – as it is for Ozuna – but there’s a number where getting Ozuna’s bat in the line-up is worth it.
Colorado are a long way below the luxury tax threshold, and will be even after arbitration increases. The National League West is open behind the Dodgers, and the Rockies should see this winter as an opportunity to fix a line-up that was woeful beyond Blackmon, Dahl, Trevor Story and Arenado. Ozuna would be a good way to do that.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays’ outfield production from Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez was dismal. Of their exciting young core, they don’t have an outfielder ready to step in. Anthony Alford didn’t hit all that well in AAA last season.
The need is there. An outfielder must be a priority as Ross Atkins looks to construct a line-up around Vlad Guerrero, Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette – Ozuna is one of the best options on the market. Toronto may well be concerned about losing a draft pick, but that isn’t as major an issue for them as it is many other teams. With their young offensive core already in place, the aim must be to fill the roster out around them.
With a herd of players on league minimum, the Blue Jays rank 28th in payroll per Spotrac. They can afford a big move or two this winter.
As Ozuna’s defence struggles, a move to the American League would give opportunities to DH. Texas have a berth at the spot with Hunter Pence hitting free agency.
While Willie Calhoun finally lived up to his offensive promise in 2019, the outfield still needs improvement. Nomar Mazara sat just below league average with a 96 OPS+ and Delino DeShields was poor. The fit isn’t perfect for Ozuna with Shin-Soo Choo also looking for plate appearances, but there’s no doubt he’d be an upgrade in a line-up that was dominated by sub-par hitters.