MLB Rumors: The Texas Rangers, the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals “appear to be the frontrunners” for free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, per Mark Feinsand on Twitter. Ozuna, 29, was acquired by the St. Louis Cardinals from the Miami Marlins after 2017, when Ozuna put up a .312/.376/.548 slash line and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger along with appearing in the All Star Game. Ozuna has not replicated that success since, however, putting up a .262/.327/.451 slash line for the Cardinals the past two seasons, with a 5.1 bWAR.
Ozuna is a righthanded hitter with some power, which is obviously a priority for the Rangers, though it isn’t immediately apparent where he would play. While he played center field early in his career, the last three seasons he has played mostly left field, and as we have discussed at length, part of the reason the Rangers were motivated to deal Nomar Mazara was that they have Joey Gallo, Shin-Soo Choo and Willie Calhoun slated to man the corner outfield positions.
Theoretically, the Rangers could try sliding Ozuna back to center, at least for a year — Choo’s contract is up after 2020, and Ozuna could move to left, with Calhoun moving to DH, after that. Or the Rangers could put Joey Gallo at center field or first base, positions he has played in the past, but where they’ve indicated they are leery of moving him to now. The other problem with moving Gallo is that neither Ozuna nor Calhoun have the arm for right field, which means you’d be committing to Choo as your regular right fielder and Ozuna and Calhoun rotating between left field and DH.
Could Ozuna be an option at first base? I guess they could look at him there, though he has a total of 1 game there as a professional, in the Dominican Summer League in 2008, when he appears to have played the final five outs there in a game.
My guess is that, if the Rangers sign Ozuna, it will be with an eye towards him playing a mix of center field and left field, with Choo sitting against most lefties — if you recall, Chris Woodward sat Choo on Opening Day last year against a lefthanded starter, and the club seems open to using him in a platoon role at this point. You would have Ozuna in LF and Calhoun at DH against lefties, with Ozuna starting in CF the majority of the time against righthanded pitchers — an arrangement that would probably necessitate using one of your four bench spots on a quality defensive centerfielder to handle late innings and the backup role.
A team signing Ozuna is also likely going to believe that they can wring some better production out of him than he’s shown the last two seasons. As Mike Petriello wrote about in November, Ozuna is underperforming what his advanced metrics have indicated he should be doing — though, as Mike points out, that doesn’t appear to be due to bad luck, but rather, is a product of the fact that he has been hitting a ton of ground balls the past two years that are right at the shortstop and thus are routine 6-3s, lowering his expected batting average on ground balls.