You have heard the adage, "A bad penny always turns up". In the case of the current 'former' St. Louis Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna, I believe "The Bear" is a good penny. And, maybe even "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", as the saying goes.
Prior to the 2019 season ending, Ozuna made it known he wanted to remain with the team. Season closed and he was offered the now MLB popular Qualifying Offer for free agent-to-be. Which, with no surprise, he declined.
His trade from the Miami Marlins to the Cardinals in 2017, a two time All Star, 2017 MVP contender, Gold Glove (earned in left field) and Silver Slugger awards break-out season with a .312 BA/.548 SLG/.924 OPS. Cardinals had wooed Giancarlo Stanton to no avail. Ozuna was second in line. The trade was completed with the Cardinals having to give up, at the time, the same four premium prospects which they had agreed upon with the Marlins regarding Stanton. Which included outfielder Magneuris Sierra and pitcher Sandy Alcantara, to ink the 1 Yr/$9 MM contract for Ozuna.
Impressive 2017: "Ozuna became the third outfielder since 2003 to hit .310 with at least 30 homers and 120 RBIs. He led all NL cleanup hitters with a .548 slugging percentage and .924 OPS, and he finished fourth among all NL players in total bases." (Jenifer Langosch, MLB, Dec 13, 2017)
No sign of the above as he dealt with discomfort (shoulder) in 2018, which led to microscopic surgery and recovery in the off-season. However, not directly under the watchful eye of the Cardinals medical/training staff. That left a few unhappy campers among the Cardinals organization regarding his rehab 'off-site'.
But, he still held a .280 BA with 23 HR/88 RBI in his first season with St. Louis. Even though, due to his shoulder situation, 'throwing' did become an issue. After Ozuna's 'taking care of his health on his own', once arriving early to their camp in Jupiter FL, he was confirmed ready to play coming into Spring Training 2019. And, a new $12.5 MM contract for last season. Hugs all around with an ounce of 'don't do it again' scenario.
In 2019, he slugged out 29 HR/89 RBI, but only a .241 BA (485 PA) with a tick better .472 SLG/.800 OPS over 2018. With 117 hits, he also added 23-doubles along with a relatively 'healthy' 62-114/BB-SO ratio and with 12 stolen bases, only caught twice.
However, he only played in a total of 130 games due to sustaining a fracture to two fingers on his right hand - batting and throwing hand - sliding back into first base, June 28 in the game against the San Diego Padres. At that point, he led the team with 20 HR/62 RBI. He missed 28 games and returned on August 3. Too soon? Here nor there, Cardinals clean-up hitter was back.
In my opinion, obviously without the 'hand power' on the bat to re-coup a strong season start with only adding nine more homers and 27 RBI, in 51 games played to close the season. Within the latter portion of play, he still held with a decent a 31-48/BB-SO ratio.
ZOOM FORWARD ~ 2020
Ozuna's name has been associated with a few teams this off-season. One being the Chicago White Sox and supposedly they were 'ready to sign' him As rumors go, that information quickly was found to be untrue by reporters from his native Dominion Republic.
Now, "reportedly", three teams are in the running: Cincinnati Reds, Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. Cardinals missed out, or just chose not to sign an available left-handed hitter, which has been on their priority list, FA/OF Corey Dickerson who recently was signed by the Marlins for a song.
Initially, rumors were that the Ozuna camp would be seeking a multi-year/$100 MM contract. In my humble opinion, to date, he has not proven to 'be that player'. Solid, yes, but lacking as a Gold Glover in the field. And still has not come close to his 2017 numbers to be a Silver Slugger.
Cardinals have been in contact with Ozuna and camp since the end of the season. They haven't totally dismissed the idea of bringing him back. However, I feel a contract of longevity - five year (plus) - will not happen.
He is only 29 years old and five years does not seem extraordinary. But, I would look for Cardinals to offer a maximum three year at $17.5 MM-18 MM per year with an option/buy-out in year four. No 'no-trade' provision - no 'player opt-out', either. Of course, performance dependent, contract talks 'could be' revisited at any time should Ozuna show decisive improvement.
Will the Reds and Rangers bump-up the deal? Only time will tell.
As Cardinals fans do know, Cardinals head of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak and CEO Bill DeWitt will hold firm to keep payroll at, or very close to, the $163 MM of 2019. Yes they have room to wiggle with the threshold tax being at $208 MM. However, don't want to cut it too close for possible considerations at mid-season deadline.
This off-season, the Cardinals signed LHP pitcher Kwang Hynn Kim ( pronounced kwong yunn kim), mid-December for two years, 2020-2021, but the 'finances' were not disclosed.
With the deal for Kim, I believe adding a deal with Ozuna would not break their bank should they choose to re-sign him. There are different contract scenarios clubs go with to accommodate current payroll. He has been an effective clean-up man. Completely healthy, he most certainly has the ability to prove to be the Ozuna of 2017. My contention, yes he does have potential at the plate, even though a right-hander. On the flip-side, his defense needs a bit more work with a tad more speed when he sees the ball 'to land in front of him'. Just my opinion.
Or, as Cardinals have been linked with OF/RF Nick Castellanos (27). Chicago Cubs 'rental' at the deadline last season in hopes he'd be the key to yet another post-season bid for the Cubs.
Castellanos, coming from the Detroit Tigers (seven seasons - career .274 BA) to the northenders, he held a .273 BA/.790 OPS (403 AB) in "Motown" and a .321 BA/1.002 OPS (212 AB) with the Cubs. Given his age, and agent being Scott Boras, I would really be surprised if Cardinals take the bait to lock-in another right-handed hitter. And watching him in the outfield, Ozuna did better overall.
Still the question looms. Can Ozuna be the strong offensive player compared to Castellanos? And, concerning that nasty payroll, Cardinals do have prospects/younger players with controlled salaries, that will be able to fill the need.
2019 POSTSEASON ~ A SIGN?
Ozuna does bring some spark to the team. Over zealous at times at the plate with swings and misses. But, he did provide some key hits for the Cardinals. In addition, in post-season play, 37 AB for a .324 BA/12 Hits with a remaining .359/.595/.954 slashline. "IF" thought he would be able to come close to those numbers during the regular season(s) to come ~ I believe Cardinals would have by-passed the QO.
Unfortunately, fans, Cardinals, nor Ozuna have the 'Baseball Crystal Ball" to see into the future. What we do hold is that the player has faith and dedication himself to be better on the field.
Will Ozuna still be in a "Birds on the Bat" uniform come Spring Training? (Which is only 39 days away for pitchers and catchers to report in.) That remains to be 'announced'. I do know of one Cardinals fan that would be extremely excited as he would post: "I told you so".
Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on Twitter @elichap822.