I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea of Marcell Ozuna returning to the St. Louis Cardinals.
But I’m certain that the Cardinals can’t afford to overpay for a player who has been excellent in bursts while frequently helpless at the plate and clueless in the field for long stretches between hot streaks.
The Cardinals are in a bit of a payroll jam because they passed out contracts they shouldn’t have to Matt Carpenter, Mike Leake, Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil. I’m not opposed to jumping in the free agent pool when the guy is going to be a difference maker like Max Scherzer or David Price would have been. I’d much rather see the team pay $30 million a year to an elite talent than spend $15 million a year on a player who is just filling a uniform. Ozuna may be the worst of both worlds. He’s a guy who is three years removed from his best season, but still just 29 years old and threatening to pull in a five or six-year deal for upwards of $100 million. If that’s the case, thanks, but no thanks.
I really have a hard time believing Ozuna is going to pull those kinds of offers when one of the most consistent hitters in the game, JD Martinez, struggles to get to the $100 million mark a couple of years ago. Major League Baseball franchises have shown uncharacteristic restraint the past few years when it comes to doling out the big deals. True, Bryce Harper got the predicted record-breaking contract we’ve been hearing about for a couple of years last winter. But it took forever for the whole thing to be sorted out and he had to spread the money out over 13 years which drove down the average annual value. While Ozuna can be a very good player, he’s not in the same zip code as Harper when it comes to being an offensive force — or in the area of selling tickets, for that matter.
It’s going to hurt Ozuna even more if St. Louis makes a qualifying offer, tying the slugging outfielder to draft pick compensation. I could see Ozuna accepting the qualifying offer instead of potentially lingering on the market. Guys like Mike Moustakas have been burned by turning down qualifying offers in pursuit of multi-year deals, only to have to accept a one-year contract for less than they would have otherwise gotten. Ozuna has said it is his preference to remain in St. Louis, so accepting the offer and trying to turn it into an extended stay — or at least trying to turn in a better season and then hit the market next off-season without the draft pick shadow hanging over him.
People have asked me if I think the Cardinals would shy away from a qualifying offer out of fear that Ozuna would take it. Why would the team do that? They could have a potential all-star type player on a low-risk, one-year contract. That’s the sort of thing general managers dream about at night. Besides, the Cardinals could go another route and gamble the slugger finds a deal someplace else so they get a draft pick — and if he accepts the offer, they could just trade him for a prospect and get off the hook for the cash.
St. Louis doesn’t need another under-performing outfielder
I really think Ozuna has better baseball in him than what we’ve seen so far in St. Louis. But the Cardinals can’t afford to pay him $25 million a year for five or six years to find out. Not when they already have $16.5 million tied up in Fowler the next two years, a guy that is being patted on the back for his tremendous bounce back season in 2019. It’s true that he hit much better last year than the year before. But let’s not forget that bounce only translated to a .238 batting average with 142 strikeouts. Fowler, by all accounts, is a great teammate and he’s made his fair share of big plays over the years. But, at this point of his career, he is vastly overpaid for what he brings to the table. Potentially having $40 million a season tied up in two under-performing corner outfielders is a risk St. Louis just can’t afford.
Ideally, I’d love to see the Cardinals land Washington Nationals free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon or Houston Astros ace Garrit Cole. Heck, I’d love to see the Cardinals sign them BOTH. But we know none of that is likely to happen. I can accept that. But the team hasn’t been burned by fishing in the deep end of the free agent pool. It’s happened when they spent too much money on second or third tier players. I sure hope they don’t make the same mistake again.
If Ozuna wants to play on a tender or to sign a three-year deal for $54 million or so, I could back that. But I just haven’t seen anything in his two years in St. Louis to make me believe Ozuna is a $100 million player.
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Scott Wuerz is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. The Cheap Seats blog is written from his perspective as a fan and is designed to spark discussion among fans of the Cardinals and other MLB teams. Sources supporting his views and opinions are linked. If you’re looking for Cardinals news and features, check out the BND’s Cardinals section.