ST. LOUIS -- Free agent Marcell Ozuna has rejected the qualifying offer that the Cardinals extended him a little over a week ago.
Ozuna, who turned 29 years old on Tuesday, will field offers from interested teams and look for a multi-year deal. The Cardinals have talked with Ozuna and his agent, Melvin Roman, about the potential to bring the left fielder back, and Ozuna has emphasized his preference in staying with St. Louis. But his rejection of the qualifying offer came in part because other teams have expressed interest in signing him to a multi-year deal. Ozuna was one of eight players to reject the qualifying offer this year, while Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu accepted it.
If a player rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the club he left will receive Draft pick compensation and the club that signs him will forfeit a Draft pick, and in some cases multiple picks. The value of those picks varies based on whether or not the clubs receive (or pay into) revenue sharing and whether or not the player’s new contract exceeds $50 million (full explanation here).
If a player accepts a qualifying offer, he and the club are locked into a one-year contract worth $17.8 million for the 2020 season. Though it should be noted that players who reject a QO are still free to negotiate a new deal -- for one year or multiple years -- with their original team. Also, players are ineligible to receive a QO if they were traded during the preceding season (Nicholas Castellanos from the Tigers to Cubs in the summer 2019, for example) or if they have received a QO before (Yasmani Grandal, who got one from the Dodgers last winter).
Ozuna was acquired from the Marlins in an offseason trade in 2017 and had a .262/.327/.451 slash line over two years with the Cardinals. In '19, he hit 29 home runs despite missing a month with fractured fingers on his right hand. As a playoff rookie this year, he slashed .324/.359/.595 and had a .954 OPS over nine games. Ozuna had a few costly defensive miscues during the postseason, but his defense did improve from last year. His 2.2 WAR makes him one of the best outfielders in this year’s free agent class, along with Brett Gardner and Castellanos.
With offensive improvement as the goal of the offseason, the Cardinals have a need for Ozuna and his production, especially if it continues to rise. While there have been players on the roster who have hit cleanup before, like Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong (albeit very little in his young career), the Cardinals do not have a clear cleanup hitter -- one who is ready to complement Goldschmidt -- in their system.
But they also want to clear the outfield for some young players, like Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena and top prospect Dylan Carlson that they believe will fit in a corner outfield spot at some point. Signing Ozuna or another outfielder to a long-term deal limits who from the system the Cardinals can find playing time for in 2020.