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Need an OF? Teams start lining up for these 2

@jonmorosi
November 13, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The free-agent outfield market has become clearer this week at the General Managers Meetings, and two names stand out above the rest: Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna. The Reds are showing interest in both Castellanos and Ozuna, sources say, as Cincinnati is intent on upgrading an offense

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The free-agent outfield market has become clearer this week at the General Managers Meetings, and two names stand out above the rest: Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna.

The Reds are showing interest in both Castellanos and Ozuna, sources say, as Cincinnati is intent on upgrading an offense that finished 12th among National League teams in runs scored this year.

One key question for the Reds to consider as they make decisions on their outfield alignment: Can right fielder Aristides Aquino again be the slugger who posted a 1.158 OPS in August, or was his .619 OPS from Sept. 1 onward a long-term cause for concern?

The Cardinals appear to have a better chance of retaining Ozuna than the Cubs do with Castellanos, whom they acquired from Detroit at the Trade Deadline. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported the Reds, White Sox and Rangers all have shown interest in Ozuna, with the Braves another potential landing spot.

In addition to that group, the Giants and D-backs have at least checked in with the representatives for Ozuna.

The Giants have been more focused on hiring general manager Scott Harris and manager Gabe Kapler this week than aggressively pursuing free agents. But Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi proved last offseason with Bryce Harper that he’s not afraid to make large offers to free-agent hitters.

Giants left fielders combined for a .672 OPS last season, second worst in the Major Leagues.

The D-backs, meanwhile, are likely to add at least one outfielder from the outside this offseason -- although not necessarily one as expensive as Castellanos or Ozuna. When Arizona last reached the postseason, in 2017, the team finished the season with J.D. Martinez -- who profiles similarly to Castellanos and Ozuna -- playing one outfield corner.

The White Sox are poised to be one of the most active teams in the Majors this winter, and a signing of Castellanos would be intriguing on multiple levels. Castellanos could address the team’s Major League-worst right-field production (.565 OPS) with the added bonus of luring away a powerful bat from the crosstown Cubs.

• Every year, clubs arrive to the GM Meetings in search of controllable starting pitchers via trade. By week’s end, they rarely have a lengthy list of viable options.

This year, Rockies right-hander Jon Gray is among the best names for them to consider.

Colorado is willing to listen on its 2013 first-round MLB Draft pick, one source said Wednesday. In many ways, this is an optimal offseason to trade Gray. He has two years left before free agency and is said to be progressing well from season-ending surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.

The Padres, who are open to moving multiple prospects in order to acquire a proven starter, are one team with interest in Gray -- although an in-division trade could be difficult to finalize.

While Gray, 28, is regarded as having untapped potential, he has the same adjusted ERA as Madison Bumgarner over the past three seasons -- in a comparable number of innings. In fact, Gray’s ERA+ is better than that of free agent Jake Odorizzi over the same span.

• Part of the Padres’ motivation to add a starting pitcher via trade is their approaching 40-man roster crunch. San Diego has one of the top farm systems in the game, and now a sizable signing class of prospects is entering its protection year for the Rule 5 Draft.

Thus, the Padres are more willing than before to group multiple prospects together in order to acquire one Major Leaguer -- rather than watch them depart via the Rule 5 next month.

“Managing your roster is crucial,” Padres GM A.J. Preller said Wednesday. “For us, you want to make sure you maximize your resources [and] make smart decisions in the next few weeks. That may be smaller trades -- [maybe] a three-for-one, a two-for-one. An advantage of that is it enables us to protect other guys who we think are going to be attractive to other clubs.”

• Preller smiled when asked if it helps the Padres’ offseason pursuits that a number of the most prominent free-agent pitchers -- namely Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Cole Hamels -- grew up in Southern California.

“Arguably the best [amateur] baseball in the country is played in Southern California,” Preller said. “Every year on the free-agent market, [there are] players who got their start [there]. We always like to talk about it. Hopefully, guys feel that affinity for coming home. If it plays a little role -- or a lot of a role -- that’s a big part of being in San Diego and being with the Padres.”

• Theo Epstein was asked how much Cubs fans should brace themselves for the trade of a star position player. “Not nearly as much as they read about,” replied Epstein, the team’s president of baseball operations. “We’ve always had a policy of ‘no untouchables,’ as most clubs do, so we’re going to actively explore trades. It’s probably going to be the avenue through which we try to get better in the short term and long term this winter. No one knows what’s going to happen. Not even us ... I would take everything with at least a grain of salt.”

If the Cubs move Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras, it’s nearly certain that the return would include at least one high-end, controllable starting pitcher.

• Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill indicated the team is likely to keep left-handed starter Caleb Smith, who is drawing trade interest after striking out better than one batter per inning this year. “We’ve worked hard and traded away a lot of good players to build the pitching depth we’ve been able to accumulate,” Hill said. “I think that’s a strength of ours and something we’re going to build upon.”

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.