Two years after the Cardinals made a big move in acquiring Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins via trade, the outfielder is on the free-agent market for the first time in his career. He is tied to Draft-pick compensation if he signs with a new team after being one of 10 players to receive the $17.8 million qualifying offer.
Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding Ozuna.
Braves add Ozuna on 1-year deal
Jan. 21: The Braves have signed Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million contract, the team announced Tuesday.
The move fills Atlanta's need for a middle-of-the-order bat after Josh Donaldson departed as a free agent and joined the Twins on a four-year deal. More >
With Ozuna still unsigned, Cards not planning to increase payroll
Jan. 20: Ozuna finds himself in a tough spot with Spring Training less than a month away, especially with fellow outfielder Nicholas Castellanos still on the market. Looking around the Majors, there's no obvious fit for Ozuna outside of St. Louis, though he has been connected to the Reds, Rangers and Braves, among other teams.
Ozuna has made it clear he'd welcome a return to the Cardinals, and the team hasn't made any major offensive additions to this point, leaving open the possibility of a reunion with the free-agent outfielder. However, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was told by a source that if the Cards want to land the 29-year-old, the club is going to have to increase its offer.
Based on chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.'s comments on Monday, that doesn't seem likely. On the final day of Winter Warm-Up, DeWitt said that he doesn't expect the payroll to increase much from where he projects it right now at $170 million.
“That’s a pretty strong payroll,” DeWitt said. “It’s pushing the envelope, to be honest. If there's great opportunity somewhere to move it up a little bit, we'd take a look at that.”
This comes two days after St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak indicated that he's not feeling urgency to add a big piece.
The Cardinals are counting on rebound seasons from corner infielders Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter, and they want to create opportunities for new faces to emerge in the outfield, which is why they have been willing to exercise patience on the free-agent market. St. Louis also has discussed a deal for Rockies superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado, though those talks have not progressed, ESPN's Jeff Passan reported earlier this week.
Braves pivoting to Ozuna or Castellanos after losing Donaldson?
Jan. 15: Having watched Josh Donaldson -- their third baseman in 2019 -- take a four-year offer from the Twins, what's next for the Braves? And how can they hope to replace Donaldson's big bat in the lineup?
The two biggest free agents left on the board are Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos. While they're both outfielders -- not necessarily an area of need like the hot corner is for Atlanta -- they do provide production that would bolster the offense.
Are the Braves interested? It appears so, as they "do like" Ozuna, and have "at least touched base" with Castellanos, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, who suggested that Ozuna seems like the more likely fit.
If Atlanta does add either Ozuna or Castellanos, the club suddenly would have a glut of outfielders, as Ender Inciarte currently is in line to start in center field with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Nick Markakis in the corners.
That could present an opportunity to trade either Markakis or Inciarte, with the latter a more appealing piece given his age (29), team-friendly contract ($15 million through 2021 with a $9 million option or a $1 million buyout for '22) and defensive ability.
In the wake of losing Donaldson, the Braves do not have a clear answer at third base, but they appear to be considering using Johan Camargo there, with Austin Riley -- who also could play in an outfield corner -- as another option.
Of course, there's also likely to be speculation that Atlanta could make a push to trade for Rockies star Nolan Arenado or Cubs stud Kris Bryant, whose names have been popular on the rumor mill for much of the offseason.
Rangers weighing Ozuna vs. Castellanos?
Jan. 13: Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos are the most likely candidates to fill the Rangers' need for another right-handed bat according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan.
While both players have a similar profile, Castellanos could be the preferred choice for Texas because he doesn't have any Draft compensation attached to him, as Sullivan wrote.
Ozuna, meanwhile, declined the qualifying offer from the Cardinals, and as a result, other teams need to surrender one or more Draft picks to sign him. Castellanos was ineligible for a QO after being traded during the 2019 campaign. More >
Cards could play smart hand with Ozuna/Castellanos
Jan. 11: Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna have been lumped together as comparable free-agent corner outfielders with big bats for much of the offseason. As such, a lot of the same teams have been linked to both players, but there's one club in need of outfield help that could make a savvy decision in its pursuit of these two.
The Cardinals, who would appear to need to add an outfielder in the wake of sending José Martínez and Randy Arozarena to the Rays for pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore earlier in the week.
While there have been reports that the Cards could look to bring back Ozuna, who has indicated that a return to St. Louis is his preference, there's also a strong case for the team to go after Castellanos instead. The gist of it is that Castellanos is not tied to Draft-pick compensation because, unlike Ozuna, he was not presented with the qualifying offer at season's end by virtue of having been traded during 2019.
In other words, there's no penalty for signing Castellanos, but there is for Ozuna. Plus, if Ozuna inks elsewhere, the Cardinals would get an extra Draft pick (and the accompanying bonus pool money that comes with it), meaning St. Louis actually might have motivation to let Ozuna walk away, especially if a similar player is available.
MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal pointed out this strategy, as relayed by an MLB executive.
Cardinals deal two OFs to Tampa Bay; Ozuna reunion next?
Jan. 9: Ozuna's possible return to St. Louis became an even more distinct possibility Thursday after the Cardinals traded outfielders Randy Arozarena and José Martínez to the Rays in exchange for left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore. The trimming of St. Louis' outfield surplus likely gives the Redbirds a starting trio of Tyler O'Neill in left, Harrison Bader in center and Dexter Fowler in right, and while those three players all bring skills to the table, none of them possess the consistent power that Ozuna has shown in recent seasons.
On Wednesday, Ozuna stated himself that his decision was down to the Cardinals and Rangers, with St. Louis being his preferred destination. He and the Redbirds have reportedly been in communication for several weeks now, and so St. Louis' decision to trade two of its outfield pieces for 2020 indicates that it could simply come down to the two sides agreeing on terms in the coming days or weeks.
Ozuna indicates his preferred destination
Jan. 8: After spending the past two seasons with the Cardinals, could Ozuna wind up staying in St. Louis?
The free-agent outfielder indicated that two teams -- the Cards and Rangers -- are leading the race to sign him, and if given the choice, Ozuna's first option would be to return to the Cardinals, according to a report from Neftalí Ruiz of Dominican news network CDN 37.
The Reds also have been linked to the 29-year-old this winter, but it's possible they no longer are suitors after finalizing a three-year, $21 million deal with Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama this week.
Ozuna made it known earlier in the offseason that he enjoyed his time in St. Louis and would be open to a return, something that's reinforced by this latest report.
Another factor to consider here? Ozuna declined the qualifying offer from the Cards, meaning they would get Draft-pick compensation when he signs -- but only if he goes elsewhere. That is something that may have hindered Ozuna's market to this point, and it might make it more likely that he returns to St. Louis, especially if the Rangers (or other teams) don't want to give up both money and Draft pick value.
Three frontrunners emerge in bidding for Ozuna
Jan. 2: The market for Marcell Ozuna may finally be taking shape.
A source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand that the Reds, Rangers and Cardinals are among the teams still making a push for the slugger, who spent the past two seasons in St. Louis. Other teams might also still be in play, but these three appear to be the frontrunners. One factor to consider when comparing is that Ozuna received a Qualifying Offer from the Cardinals, which means that any team other than St. Louis that signs him will forfeit a Draft pick. Castellanos, by virtue of being traded during the 2019 season, was ineligible for a Qualifying Offer, which could make him more appealing to some clubs concerned about giving up Draft picks.
Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos are the two most prominent free-agent outfielders still on the market. Kole Calhoun (two years, $16 million with Arizona) and Corey Dickerson (two years, $17.5 million with Miami) signed deals recently, taking two other potential options off the board.
Multiple executives still expect the Reds -- who have already signed Mike Moustakas, Wade Miley and Shogo Akiyama this offseason -- to make another notable move. Could that move be Ozuna?
Might Ozuna land in Texas?
Dec. 29: The Rangers have already traded outfielder Nomar Mazara this offseason, but could they be in the market to add another to the current group of Willie Calhoun, Danny Santana and Joey Gallo? According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Texas may be in the market for a right-handed-hitting outfielder given that the Rangers' lineup is predominantly left-handed.
Ozuna, 29, had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .312/.376/.548 with 37 home runs and 124 RBIs. Since then, while he's put up solid numbers at the plate, they haven't been anywhere near that level of production. From 2018-19, he hit .263/.327/.452 with 52 homers.
Still, Texas could sign Ozuna in the hopes that his production continues at that rate or better, given that Mazara hit .261/.320/.435 over four seasons for the Rangers.