On their way to securing their first National League Central division title since 2015 and their 15th in franchise history, the St. Louis Cardinals have relied on certain players to carry the load in 2019. With Jack Flaherty holding down their starting rotation on his way to putting together his best season as a starter, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has helped lead this team offensively.
Helping Goldy with offensive production, outfielder Marcell Ozuna has been a key cog in their run-producing machine ever since he was acquired from the Miami Marlins, the same offseason that their divisional counterparts, the Milwaukee Brewers, went out and acquired 2018 NL Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich.
For Ozuna, his deal expires after the 2019 season, so the question begs to be addressed: does he deserve this team’s undivided attention this offseason in the event that they will do everything and anything that they can to bring him back?
In short, he does not.
While Ozuna’s production has vastly outperformed his arbitration eligibility and its subsequent salary, the former Marlins outfielder has only put up solid numbers, none that justify him being the team’s number one priority this offseason. If not resigned, a hole would obviously emerge in left field for this team, but through a combination of their minor league talent, major-league shuffling or other free-agent acquisitions, the production from Ozuna could be replaced.
Defensively, Ozuna earned his lone Gold Glove award to this date in 2017 in his first year with the Cardinals, but his defense seemed to regress at moments in 2019, especially during that internet-famous play where he decided to test his agility by overrunning a deep fly to left field, jumping up, hanging onto the wall, then trying to jump off of it and completely miss everything and slam into the dirt.
Certain injury concerns have also plagued Ozuna in his career as well, as he only played in 131 games this year, which can ultimately diminish his value too. For a player that was paid $12.5 million this year and missed 30 games, there are at least questions raised about his durability.
The Cardinals, who must understand that while they did win the division this season, with both the Chicago Cubs and Brewers on their tail, they need to make improvements to this team. A few better players that could help upgrade their outfield would be Nicholas Castellanos or Mitch Haniger; Castellanos would be one of the pricier free agents on the market this winter, and Haniger would be an enticing trade target from the Seattle Mariners.
Castellanos, who put together one of the most impressive second halves this season after being acquired by the Cubs, would become the team’s starting right fielder, which would swing either Harrison Bader or Dexter Fowler over to left field, with the other outfielder starting in center field.
Haniger, who could very well be on the move due to being on the team that its’ general manager is dealin’ Jerry DiPoto, would be a great, young upgrade to their outfield. He has an All-Star nod already under his belt, and Haniger would be a controllable guy for three more seasons under arbitration, which would help solve the growing financial concerns that the front office should have.
While the former Detroit Tigers outfielder would cost more than Ozuna, his value would serve this team better, as his durability and his offensive skill set is much better suited for being an everyday middle of the lineup player that can help take some offensive heat away from Goldschmidt. For Haniger, while a bit less proven than Ozuna is, he would be a younger, cheaper player who would grow into his role on the Cardinals and provide stability to his fourth team in his career.
This upcoming offseason is very important for St. Louis, and while bringing back Marcell Ozuna would not be the worst thing to do, the Cardinals would be smart to look outside and see if there are better options in either the free agency or trade markets.