Marcell Ozuna says it’s his priority to play for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020 and beyond.
If that’s true and he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is, signing a fair but team-friendly deal, how could the Cardinals let go of a hard-to-acquire power hitter?
I have argued all season that St. Louis needs to get a pitcher. But, seriously, is there a reason the club can’t do both?
If Ozuna would take an $18 million qualifying offer, that would be wonderful for the Cardinals. But he almost surely won’t. So offer him a longer contract with a lower annual value. He gets security and the Cardinals get payroll flexibility. It’s a win-win.
Compares to similar free agents, Ozuna could earn a contract that pays him something close to $16 million a season. I propose offering Ozuna a five-year deal — a length he’d be extremely fortunate to get given the current free agent climate — for $75 million. Pay him $10 million in 2020 and 2021, which is actually a pay cut from his $12.5 million this year. That way he gets less when Dexter Fowler is still on the payroll and more when he’s playing next to a pre-arbitration Dylan Carlson.
Ozuna gets a contract that sets him up for life, putting him behind $100 million in career earnings. The Cardinals get a 29-year-old outfielder through his prime and the certainty in the middle of the order the wanted when they traded for the left fielder.
As far as the starting pitcher goes, I have long advocated for a true ace. But what I want and what the Cardinals are going to do aren’t likely the same thing, especially now that Jack Flaherty seems to be an ascending front of the rotation starter and Dakota Hudson might win 17 games this year. The Cardinals aren’t going to out-bid everyone else for Madison Bumgarner. And should they with the miles on his left arm?
If Adam Wainwright comes back in 2020, St. Louis has him, Flaherty, Hudson, Mikolas already penciled in to the rotation and Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, Ryan Helsley and others to battle for the fifth slot. And what about Carlos Martinez? He wants to rejoin the rotation after an interesting stint as closer. Plus I am not giving up on Alex Reyes as long as he’s still on the roster.
Still, if the Cardinals found the right deal on a top pitcher, with Ozuna taking less money than last year and Michael Wacha almost surely gone, the team has the financial room to make something happen. It’s just a shame that the club committed so much money to Matt Carpenter when it didn’t have to. I would’ve been content with a plan to sign Ozuna, bring in a pitcher and then let Tommy Edman and Yairo Munoz handle third base.
It’s OK to have some room for the kids to grow. But you still have to have a foundation that the team can count on. Ozuna is a proven veteran who looks a lot more like the guy the Cardinals thought they were getting after his shoulder healed. I believe he has even more upside and I would hate to let an all-star caliber player walk away for a draft pick.