When he reported to spring training, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna was a mess and it looked like 2019 would be his last team with the club, if he made it all the way through.
But one month into the campaign, he’s magically become the player the Redbirds hoped they were getting when they parted with pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara. Now the question is how could St. Louis opt NOT to sign Ozuna to a long-term contract extension.
Sure, the Cardinals have a lot of bodies in the outfield. But there are space fillers and there are difference makers when it comes to major league ballplayers. Amassing 10 home runs and 26 runs batted in over 24 games, definitely falls into the difference maker category, even if the one-time Gold Glover’s defense occasionally leaves a little something to be desired. It took Ozuna six times as many games last year to hit 23 homers. It seemed like, after suffering a shoulder injury, the veteran outfielder was nothing more than a singles hitter.
Ozuna has special talent beyond his ability to launch laser beam homers. While it appeared that he showed up to spring training 20 pounds overweight, Ozuna appears to have leaned out in the two months since then and is roaming the bases with reckless abandon, stealing three bases already. Project Ozuna’s numbers over a full season and he is on a pace to hit more than 50 homers, drive in well over 100 runs and steal nearly 20 bases. It seems unlikely that he could keep up THAT sort of pace. But, if Ozuna can stay healthy I’d be shocked if he doesn’t hit 35 over the fence.
So, what’s that sort of production worth in terms of a contract? And would the contract be something the Cardinals are willing to pay? I’d think there would be no chance of that if not for the fact that the free agent market has been ice cold over the past two off-seasons. If the market is depressed to the point that Ozuna could be had on a three or four-year deal, wouldn’t it make too much sense to pass on? Sure, the Cardinals have Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez in the outfield picture. But talent is talent and it’s hard to let a guy like that walk away for virtually nothing. If St. Louis signed Ozuna to an extension, a couple of those young outfielders might be able to be packaged in a deal that would land the team a piece that would help it in a less crowded area. Maybe a veteran starting pitcher would be a nice pickup, or a second lefty reliever.
The Cardinals have something special cooking with a team synergy and enthusiasm that is obvious in the way the team plays. Ozuna is a big part of that, playing the game with passion that has inspired the players around him. THIS is the guy the Cardinals paid a high price to get.
Alex Reyes’ newest injury is disappointing
While Ozuna’s play has been good news, the situation with Alex Reyes has been disappointing.
The perennial prospect is again on the shelf with an injury. Fortunately, this time it isn’t his shoulder or his elbow but a finger. The irritating part is that he hurt it punching a wall after another disappointing outing. Reyes allowed three runs and three more walks in 2 2/3 innings agains Omaha in a Class AAA tilt for the Memphis Redbirds. In 10 1/3 innings in the minors this year, he’s walked nine and struck out nine. When he was in St. Louis, he walked six batters in three innings before he was demoted to try to tune up his control.
It’s not surprising that Reyes would be frustrated by his situation. Not just his control issues this year, but also his constant injuries that have derailed his early career. But it doesn’t do anyone any good for him to be self destructive.
Pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery often take a year to heal and then need a year of pitching to re-learn how their arm works. While Reyes’ Tommy John surgery happened two years ago, he’s behind in the re-education process because 2018 was basically a lost year. Just because he’s gotten off to a slow start doesn’t mean that Reyes can’t be an impact pitcher this season. But that’s not going to happen if he doesn’t get some sense and stop hurting himself. It’s good that the injured hand was his left and not on his pitching arm. But, still, he’s not going to be able to play in games for at least three weeks, it would seem. So, now we’re looking at late May before he gets back to the minors. How long will it take after that to complete the work he needs to do to get back to the big leagues?