8 potential suitors for Marcell Ozuna
With the offseason here and the Hot Stove beginning to heat up, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent free agents.
Name: Marcell Ozuna
Position: Left field
Team: Atlanta Braves
Age (as of Opening Day 2021): 30
2020 stats: 60 games, .338/.431/.636, 18 HR, 56 RBIs, 38 R, 175 OPS+
Following a pair of All-Star seasons with the Marlins in 2016 and ’17, Marcell Ozuna posted two good, but not great years in St. Louis before becoming a free agent last offseason.
Ozuna turned down the Cardinals’ $17.8 million qualifying offer, but the multiyear deal he sought never surfaced. He ultimately settled for a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves, looking to re-establish himself as an offensive force before hitting the open market for a second straight year.
Well, Ozuna did just that, leading the National League with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs and posting a .338/.431/.636 slash line in 60 games.
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Ozuna’s 2020 numbers were better than those of George Springer, who is a year older than Ozuna. But unlike Springer, who plays a strong center field (or right field), Ozuna’s defense is considered suspect, leaving him as the consensus No. 2 outfielder on the free-agent market. He could be viewed as a DH in the making, which could impact his market value.
With no qualifying offer to weigh him down this offseason, Ozuna should have an easier time finding the multiyear deal that evaded him a year ago.
1. Braves: Atlanta has had great success with one-year deals of late, getting the most out of Josh Donaldson in 2019 and Ozuna in ’20. It’s possible that general manager Alex Anthopoulos will look to the market for the next short-term slugger he can find, but Ozuna seemed to be a perfect fit in the Braves’ clubhouse, so signing him to a multiyear deal should be under consideration.
2. White Sox: Chicago was aggressive last winter, signing Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and Edwin Encarnación while handing José Abreu a new contract. The result was the club’s first trip to the postseason since 2008, but now the White Sox will look to take the next step after their Wild Card Series loss to the Athletics. Nomar Mazara and Encarnación were both disappointments, paving the way for GM Rick Hahn to import another big bat.
3. Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr. is a free agent, so the Red Sox could shift Andrew Benintendi to center field to make room for an impact bat in left field, such as Ozuna. It should also be noted that J.D. Martinez will be a free agent after the 2022 season (unless he opts out of his contract after the 2021 campaign), potentially opening the DH spot for Ozuna.
4. Cardinals: St. Louis extended a $17.8 million qualifying offer to Ozuna last year, so there was interest in retaining him for a third season. The Cardinals’ offense could have used him in 2020, ranking 14th in the NL in runs scored and last in the Majors in home runs. Tyler O’Neill hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunities over the past three seasons, so bringing back Ozuna would help strengthen the Cardinals’ lineup.
5. Rangers: Texas was among the teams looking to sign Ozuna last winter before he chose Atlanta. Based on the Rangers’ offensive ranks -- they were last in the American League in both runs scored and OPS -- they could have used him. The Rangers’ left fielders had a collective four home runs with a .594 OPS, and their DH spot produced a league-worst .575 OPS and four home runs. Ozuna would help fix either of those spots.
6. Astros: Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents, leaving Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez as the lone outfielders under contract in Houston. Alvarez, who will be returning after surgery on both knees in August, could be limited to DH duty, leaving one or two outfield spots open. Houston will need to add offense if it loses both Springer and Brantley, making Ozuna an interesting option.
7. Twins: Minnesota’s outfield appears to be set for 2021 with Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario under club control for at least one more year. The real question is whether 40-year-old Nelson Cruz returns for a third season with the Twins. If Cruz, who hit 16 homers in 53 games in 2020, moves on or retires, it would create a need for a replacement. Ozuna could slide into the DH spot, then potentially play left field if Rosario leaves as a free agent in a year.
8. Padres: San Diego’s need for Ozuna could depend on the future of the designated hitter in the NL, as Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham and Wil Myers are set to man the outfield for the Padres if there’s no DH. Should the DH return for a second season in San Diego, Ozuna could share left field and DH duties with Pham as the Padres continue to try to chase down the Dodgers in the NL West.
“Marcell Ozuna is a power-first player whose overall offensive performance can be inconsistent and is a defensive liability at this point. He has elite bat speed and can really impact the ball. However, the aggressive approach and lower-half direction is part of the production inconsistency; he is trying to pull and do damage with every swing. Defensively, he has not fully recovered from the (2018) shoulder injury and is not throwing the way he once did. Limited to left field because of the arm, he does not get good jumps and routinely takes poor routes. Ozuna has a body that needs to be monitored and could potentially be a limiting factor in contract length.
“He plays with a youthful exuberance and is a teammate that is generally well-liked because of his gregarious nature. The offensive volatility, defensive limitations and body maintenance questions will be the concerns most clubs will need to decide on. However, he is likely to find a team that really values the power production on what should be a shorter-term contract for a player still squarely in his prime years.”
Ozuna won a Gold Glove in 2017, but neither scouts nor statistics rate him as even an average outfielder. In ’19, when Ozuna played 129 games in left field, his outs above average was -8, which ranked 121st out of 133 qualified outfielders. Among left fielders, he ranked 31st out of 39. This season, in a smaller sample size, Ozuna was -1 in 21 games in the outfield. Depending on whether the DH returns to the NL in ’21, he could find AL teams showing more interest this offseason.
FOR COMP'S SAKE
Ozuna’s free-agent résumé looks remarkably similar to the one Nick Castellanos brought into free agency a year ago. Ozuna has 166 home runs, 594 RBIs and an .801 OPS in 991 games, while Castellanos had 120 home runs, 460 RBIs and a .798 OPS in 888 games. The disparity in games played makes Ozuna’s combined totals look superior, but he has averaged 23 homers and 80 RBIs after becoming an everyday player in 2014 compared to Castellanos’ 20 homers and 77 RBIs from ’14-19.
Castellanos signed a four-year, $64 million deal with the Reds last winter, a contract that includes opt-outs after both the ’20 and ’21 seasons, as well as a $20 million mutual option for ’24. Ozuna should be able to land a deal worth more than that after leading his league in both home runs and RBIs, though like Castellanos, his defensive concerns could prevent him from hitting the nine-figure mark.