Ozuna vows accountability, big year in 2019

October 17th, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- Hours after the Cardinals' season had ended with a loss at Wrigley Field, walked mostly unnoticed through St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Yet, the proclamation he made as he neared the airport exit on that final day of September wasn't as inconspicuous.

"I'm going to get right," Ozuna boldly promised. "Big year. You watch. Big year for me next year."

The Cardinals certainly hope so, as a rejuvenated Ozuna would help ignite an offense that didn't display the sort of depth or potency many had projected. And accountability is coming.

The organization is in the process of creating individual offseason goal sheets for everyone on their Major League roster. The intent, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak explained, is to present these to players by the beginning of November so that each one can structure his offseason work to meet the various objectives.

Some will focus on health; others, conditioning. There will be baseball-related items, too, such as clarifying a position priority or role. Each individual list will arrive in written form, and the Cardinals intend to have periodic check-ins with players leading up to Spring Training. In some cases, that will include flying staff members to various locations for in-person evaluations.

New manager Mike Shildt was among those to push for this change in messaging.

"Rather than just say, 'I hope you work hard,' we want to be very intentional on how you spend your time and energy," Mozeliak said. "Accountability is going to be very real, and our expectations are going to be very clear. Our hope for the end game is that come the middle of February, we can hit the ground running and now have that moment of, 'We have to catch up.'"

That brought the conversation back to Ozuna, whom Mozeliak cited multiple times during his discourse on enhanced accountability. Though the Cardinals were aware of Ozuna's compromised shoulder when they acquired him last December, they weren't necessarily expecting such immediate limitations.

As soon as Ozuna reported to camp, the Cardinals realized they needed to modify his spring program. That meant limiting his throws from the outfield so as not to expose his weakness or risk further injury. Even still, Ozuna continued to battle shoulder discomfort all year.

The Cardinals' medical staff believe the issue can be addressed through proper strength and conditioning work this offseason. Mozeliak, this week, openly challenged Ozuna to take advantage of the resources the organization will provide.

"We can show you where the water is, but we can't make you drink it," Mozeliak said. "If he's diligent and puts himself in a position to prepare and have himself in a place where his shoulder is not preventing him from playing at his full potential, then I think the sky's the limit for him. … That's why we can't allow these three, four months to go by without utilizing them."

Ozuna should have added personal motivation, too, as he's set to be a free agent for the first time after the 2019 season. He can parlay a big year into a big day.

"There were moments this season that he looked every bit the ideal cleanup hitter," Mozeliak said of the left fielder, who slashed .280/.325/.433 with a .758 OPS in 148 games. "And there were times when you were frustrated. I think that's baseball. For me, I'm still pretty excited about what he brings to the table, but I think I would leave my last sentence to this statement open because the next four months matter for him."