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Free Agent Spotlight: Marcell Ozuna

The Cardinals could use more security in their outfield. Is Ozuna the answer?

League Championship Series - St Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals - Game Four Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

With the Cardinals signing of Kwang-hyun Kim, the Cardinals are likely done with the starting pitcher market. Nothing says they have to stop of course, but now they come into 2020 with six viable MLB options for the rotation, and pretty good depth behind him. I asked for one more starter, and they gave us one. Thus concludes my free agent spotlights on starting pitchers.

If the Cardinals were to make another free agent move, it would surely be in the outfield. Well besides backup catcher and the relief market, but I don’t particularly care about either of those markets. No, obviously the Cardinals aren’t signing anybody in the infield. In 2020, the middle infield combined for 7.8 WAR, Paul Goldschmidt was just about a 3 WAR player, and Tommy Edman picked up the slack for Matt Carpenter. Those five should approximate 10+ WAR and are a strength for the team.

Outfield, well, it’s more of a question mark than infield. Despite a low BABIP and only playing in 128 games, Harrison Bader was worth 1.8 fWAR and I feel comfortable with him as one of the three starters. The rest? Well you have Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez, neither of whom are likely to be even average next year. And then you have four outfielders born in 1995, all of whom for various reasons, are far from a sure thing in 2020. And all four have equally valid cases to be on the MLB roster next year in April . Well Tyler O’Neill has a better case than the other three, but still. Plus there’s Dylan Carlson.

It sounds like I’m making an argument against signing an outfielder and I kind of am actually. But there’s no denying that there’s a crash and burn risk with this group. I mean I just said I trust Harrison Bader the most out of that group, and maybe that says more about me than the state of the outfield, but I think it says a lot about the outfield too. The Cardinals are largely a risk-averse group, and it would make sense for them to sign a less risky outfielder. Enter Marcell Ozuna.

Unlike when I did pitchers earlier (and will likely do for further OFers if I get there), I’m going to eschew Ozuna’s history and the case for signing him. I think just about everyone reading it is familiar with him and knows the relative strengths and weaknesses for signing him. Instead I’ll skip straight to a potential contract. MLBTR presents a rather reasonable contract for Ozuna, although these predictions were all made before the free agent market temporarily seemed to course-correct. They predict a 3 year, $45 million with the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco the city is probably great (I’ve never been), but for your sake Marcell I hope they’re wrong on this one. The Giants aren’t going to be good anytime soon and certainly not during your contract.

The Steamer projections for Ozuna are, I would say, quite optimistic, which has generally been the case for Ozuna’s projections pretty much every year since he had his breakout season. But there isn’t really anything in his numbers that looks off, so I see no reason to alter them. They predict a 3.1 WAR season, which would be his best season since 2017 (and higher than every other season since 2014.) I’m probably taking the under on this one - if I had to pinpoint where the projection is probably going to be wrong, it’s his power, which sees virtually no dropoff from his 2019 despite a career .183. Especially if he stays at Busch may I add. Also I remain skeptical of his positive defense numbers. Anyway, 3.1 WAR is what we’re going with.

MLBTR predicts a 3 year deal and while I do think he can get more years than that, it wouldn’t be with the Cardinals. So we’re going to stick with that. Given a 3.1 WAR projection, Ozuna would be deserving of a 3 year, $70.2 million contract. Which is quite a bit more than the projected contract above. A 3 year, $45 million contract, even with my Ozuna skepticism, would be a steal.

There is an addendum, and it does not specifically apply to the Cardinals and that is the qualified offer. Well, it doesn’t apply to the Cardinals if they re-sign him, if he signs elsewhere, it applies. But while the cost isn’t a 1st round pick anymore, it isn’t nothing. Trying to predict what the value of the draft pick lost is a fool’s errand since I don’t know where he’s signing, but using Craig Edwards handy article, I’ll just average the second highest draft picks of all 30 teams, which is a value of $6.35 million. Throw in the $500K of international bonus pool money lost and he’s due for a contract worth $6.85 million less than his worth. Again, this value is different for specific teams. So a desirable 3-year contract for him is 3 years, $63.35 million. Still, huge bargain at MLBTR’s projected price.

I’ll end this by noting something interesting. A few spots ahead of Ozuna on the top free agent rankings is Nick Castellanos. Which is interesting primarily because they’re basically the same. Castellanos is a better hitter, but a much, much worse fielder. Castellanos has edged Ozuna in WAR the last two years, but it’s 5.8 to 5.4. Steamer is not a fan either. Due partially to defense and partially to a lower BABIP than he’s had in a couple years, they project a 1.5 WAR season from him. His MLBTR projected contract? 4 years, $58 million.

Ozuna’s a year older, so the extra year makes sense, but I just found that kind of funny. And yes, Castellanos has (barely) been better the last two years. But he’s pretty much unplayable on the field. He should be a DH. I wonder if the market will reflect that ultimately. Anyway, I just wanted to use him as a comparison point because 1) there’s no chance the Cards get him and 2) I still wanted to write about him anyway.

I assume, though I could be wrong, that just about everybody would be in favor of a 3 year, $45 million deal for Ozuna right? There’s still the opportunity cost lost by paying Ozuna instead of someone else (in 2021 or 2022, not 2020), but a 3 year, $45 million contract pays Ozuna as if he’s currently a 2.2 WAR player and considering he’s cleared that hurdle for four straight seasons, you’d have to be mighty pessimistic to think he’s that player right now.