Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land Marcell Ozuna in Free Agency
After a qualifying offer limited his market last offseason, Marcell Ozuna signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the Atlanta Braves.
Now he's set to cash in with a multiyear megadeal.
The 30-year-old hit .338/.431/.636 for a 175 OPS+ and led the National League in home runs (18), RBI (56) and total bases (145) to finish sixth in NL MVP voting.
While George Springer is a more complete player and DJ LeMahieu is fresh off his second batting title, a case can be made that Ozuna is the most impactful offensive player on the free-agent market.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported Friday that "no less than 10 teams" have showed interest in Ozuna. That should come as no surprise in such a top-heavy but thin market.
We operated under the assumption that there will not be a universal designated hitter in 2021, but there's a good chance that rule will be adopted at some point in the near future, so it was worth taking into consideration.
With free agency underway, let's look at how all 30 teams stack up as landing spots for Ozuna based on their financial flexibility, roster needs and status as contenders.
Not a Chance
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Buccos are not one big bat away from contending. Even when they were a playoff team, they operated on the fringe of the free-agent market. In the midst of a rebuild, they might not sign anyone to an MLB deal.
29. Arizona Diamondbacks
With David Peralta and Kole Calhoun slotted in the corner outfield spots and several promising young outfield prospects in the farm system, Ozuna doesn't make any sense for the D-backs. They could be headed for a retool anyway after a disappointing campaign.
28. Baltimore Orioles
The O's already have an abundance of defensively challenged corner infielders and outfielders, and they are a few years from making a push back up the standings. An Ozuna-type player could make sense in a few years but not yet.
27. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have done a good job playing the bargain market in recent years, signing C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop to one-year deals last offseason. They have money to spend and some exciting young talent rising the ranks, but they still appear to be at least a year or two away from making a big move.
26. Kansas City Royals
With Alex Gordon riding off into retirement, the Royals have a void to fill in left field that Ozuna could in theory address. The cost-conscious front office is unlikely to meet his asking price, though, and it's more likely they'll use the opening to assess young talent.
25. Cleveland Indians
Ozuna would be an excellent addition to a team that has struggled to find production from the corner outfield spots in recent years, but it's unlikely Cleveland will be willing to spend. The cash-strapped club will have a hard time justifying any major free-agent additions if money is the motivating factor in a Francisco Lindor trade.
24. Tampa Bay Rays
It was viewed as a financial splurge when the the Rays shelled out a two-year, $30 million contract to sign Charlie Morton two years ago. It will cost significantly more than that to sign Ozuna, and flashy spending is just not how this organization operates.
23. Oakland Athletics
The highest-paid player on the A's roster is Khris Davis, who has a similar profile to Ozuna as a bat-only middle-of-the-order slugger. Given Oakland's financial limitations, it's unlikely it would tie up so much payroll in two players who fit into the same box. If the Athletics spend, expect it to be on pitching.
22. Texas Rangers
The Rangers were tied to Ozuna last offseason, but they were in a different place and gearing up for what was supposed to be a run at contention. Now they are poised to blow things up, and slashing payroll is at the top of the to-do list following a disappointing season.
21. Milwaukee Brewers
It's not out of the question the Brew Crew could use the $17 million they paid Ryan Braun to replace him in the middle of the lineup with Ozuna. That would reunite Ozuna with former Miami Marlins teammate Christian Yelich and provide him with quality protection, but fitting them both into a tight budget is easier said than done.
No Clear Fit
20. Los Angeles Angels
With Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani likely to scoop up the bulk of the designated hitter at-bats and left fielder Justin Upton still owed $51 million over the next two years, there's no obvious spot for Ozuna.
19. Colorado Rockies
An argument can be made that upgrading the offense should be a priority for the Rockies, but if they're going to spend big on a bat, locking up shortstop Trevor Story with a long-term extension before he reaches free agency next offseason should be the move. Then again, who knows what the directionless front office is thinking?
18. Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies have three spots to fill in the starting rotation and a shaky relief corps to address, so despite their offensive inconsistency, it's unlikely they will go after Ozuna. The outfield is already set with Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward penciled in as the starters. A Schwarber trades is not out of the question, but there are more pressing needs than a power-hitting corner outfielder.
17. Los Angeles Dodgers
Free agents Joc Pederson (29 games) and Enrique Hernandez (17 games) spent time in the outfield, but it's hard to call it an area of need. AJ Pollock, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts are the projected starters, so a left-handed hitting fourth outfielder to replace Pederson would make the most sense. Robbie Grossman and Adam Eaton are potential targets.
16. New York Yankees
Even if they don't re-sign Brett Gardner, the Bronx Bombers still have Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman and Giancarlo Stanton. What they don't have is a viable starting rotation behind ace Gerrit Cole. If they're going to hand out a lucrative long-term deal, it will likely be to a starting pitcher.
15. San Diego Padres
A bounce-back season by Wil Myers has changed the outlook for the Pads outfield, as he joined Tommy Pham and Trent Grisham in what should be one of the more productive units in baseball. San Diego will need to add some depth if Jurickson Profar doesn't re-sign, but it will likely aim lower than Ozuna to round out the roster.
14. New York Mets
It seems unwise to rule anything out for the Mets this offseason as new owner Steve Cohen looks to make his mark. That said, with Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto penciled in to the outfield and Jeff McNeil also likely to play in the grass, it's unlikely Ozuna will be at the top of their shopping list.
13. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards paid a steep price to acquire Ozuna from the Marlins after the 2017 season, sending pitchers Sandy Alcantara and Zac Gallen and two others the other way. Ozuna was productive in his two seasons with St. Louis, but his 107 OPS+ fell short of expectations. With Dylan Carlson, Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler and Lane Thomas in the mix for outfield playing time, a reunion appears unlikely.
12. Toronto Blue Jays
Following a recent report that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would like to move back to third base, the Jays could use Rowdy Tellez at first base to open up the DH spot if they wanted to make a run at Ozuna. Shoring up the pitching staff behind Hyun Jin Ryu figures to be the No. 1 priority, but don't rule out Toronto as a dark horse.
11. Philadelphia Phillies
An outfield of Ozuna, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper would look awfully good, and Ozuna would help take some pressure of Rhys Hoskins in the right-handed-hitting run production role, but McCutchen hasn't regularly played center field since 2017. Shoring up the bullpen and making every effort to retain J.T. Realmuto will be bigger priorities, but don't sleep on the Phils, who are all in on their core.
10. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds would sacrifice a ton defensively with Ozuna and Nick Castellanos at the outfield corners and Jesse Winker in center field, but Ozuna would be a massive upgrade over Shogo Akiyama at the plate. That said, after handing out matching four-year, $64 million deals to Castellanos and Mike Moustakas last offseason, the Reds might not have the ability to spend as freely.
9. Seattle Mariners
Once upon a time, the M's gave Nelson Cruz a four-year, $57 million contract to provide a veteran presence in the middle of their lineup. Could they target Ozuna for a similar role? He will likely come at a higher cost, maybe on a four-year, $80 million deal. With so much young talent on the roster and more on the way, Seattle should have plenty of financial flexibility.
8. San Francisco Giants
The last Giants hitter not named Barry Bonds to hit 30 home runs was Jeff Kent in 2002, and the last time Bonds reached that mark was 2004. That's 16 years since the lineup had a bona fide slugger to anchor the offense. Sliding Mike Yastrzemski to center field and using Mauricio Dubon in a super-utility role would leave Ozuna and Alex Dickerson to man the outfield corners. Is San Francisco ready to spend, or will that come next offseason when a ton of money comes off the books?
7. Miami Marlins
Ozuna had a rocky tenure with the Fish, but there is a different front office in place. He would slot nicely into the middle of the lineup and at a corner outfield spot alongside Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson, and the Marlins have money if they decide to spend. The big question is whether their surprise postseason appearance will push up their contention timeline.
6. Minnesota Twins
All right, hear me out.
- Step 1: Don't re-sign Nelson Cruz, who will likely command more than the two-year, $26 million deal he inked in 2019.
- Step 2: Non-tender Eddie Rosario, who has a .305 on-base percentage over the past two seasons.
- Step 3: Install Alex Kirilloff as the everyday left fielder.
- Step 4: Use the $19.8 million Cruz and Rosario were paid in 2020 to sign Ozuna for something in the neighborhood of four years and $80 million.
This would open a path to playing time for one of baseball's top prospects and replace Cruz with a younger and equally productive middle-of-the-order bat. And it would not add significant money to the payroll.
The Minnesota Twins could use a bit of a shakeup after their offense stagnated last year on the heels of a juggernaut campaign.
5. Boston Red Sox
The free agency of Jackie Bradley Jr. allows the Boston Red Sox an opportunity to sign Ozuna, who would slot nicely alongside Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez in the middle of the order.
Andrew Benintendi is more than capable of shifting to center field. Ozuna and his limited range would not be much of a hindrance in left field at Fenway Park if he can learn to navigate the Green Monster.
The Red Sox won 108 games and the World Series in 2018 on the strength of a stacked offense, so while shoring up the pitching staff might seem like the obvious course of action, don't rule out a focus on the lineup.
Martinez is on the books for two more years, and once his contract is up, Ozuna could shift to the DH role going into his age-32 season.
4. Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals declined a $10.5 million club option ($1.5M buyout) on Adam Eaton in a series of moves that included declined options for Anibal Sanchez ($12M club; $2M buyout), Howie Kendrick ($6.5M mutual; $2.3M buyout) and Eric Thames ($4M mutual option; $1M buyout).
That should allow them some flexibility this offseason, and replacing Eaton in the outfield should be one of their top priorities.
Juan Soto and Trea Turner were among the most productive hitters in the NL last season, but there was a massive drop-off from that duo to the rest of the lineup.
Soto and Ozuna both fit best in left field, and whoever shifted to right field would be stretched, but speedy center fielder Victor Robles can just cover the entire outfield, right?
The difference Ozuna would make in the middle of the lineup would more than offset his defensive shortcomings, and while George Springer would make more sense as a top target, expect the Nats to explore Ozuna as a fallback plan.
3. Houston Astros
In a season in which several marquee players posted disappointing offensive numbers, George Springer and Michael Brantley were two of the best hitters in the Houston Astros lineup.
A healthy Yordan Alvarez will effectively fill in the lost production of one of them, but the other will need to be replaced, and the departure of Josh Reddick also leaves the team a bit short on outfield options.
Coming off the best season of his career, and after a slow market resulted in his signing a one-year deal last offseason, Ozuna will likely follow the money.
The Astros could have a hard time attracting some free agents in the wake of their sign-stealing scandal, but if they're willing to outbid the field, Ozuna could be the perfect player to shore up a lineup that stands to lose several key members.
2. Chicago White Sox
On paper, this is the perfect fit.
The Chicago White Sox signed Edwin Encarnacion to a one-year, $12 million contract on the heels of his 34-homer season in 2019, but he struggled to a .157 average and 70 OPS+ before the club declined his $12 million club option for 2021.
The South Siders could opt to leave the DH role vacant, paving the way for Jose Abreu to shift there once top prospect Andrew Vaughn is ready to take over at first base.
For a team seemingly on the cusp of title contention, however, a more aggressive approach would make sense.
Ozuna could slot in as the DH and then shift to an outfield corner alongside Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert once Vaughn breaks through.
The White Sox already have one of the most potent lineups in baseball, and Ozuna would make them that much more lethal.
1. Atlanta Braves
Despite the elimination of the universal DH—at least temporarily—the Atlanta Braves still have to be considered the favorites to sign Ozuna.
"Marcell was amazing for us. He was awesome. I'd love to have him back," Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos told reporters in October. "I certainly plan on having discussions."
For all that has been made of his defensive shortcomings, Ozuna played 21 of his 60 games in the outfield last season. His defensive metrics (-2 DRS, -16.1 UZR/150) speak to a competent fielder with a lack of range but not someone who torpedoes his value with poor defense.
The Braves will have Ronald Acuna Jr. in one outfield spot, with some combination of Adam Duvall, Ender Inciarte and prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters in the mix for the remaining playing time.
Pache would undoubtedly benefit from more seasoning in the minors, leaving the possibility open for Ozuna to start in left field, Acuna in center and Duvall in right.
The emergence of Ian Anderson and impending return of Mike Soroka lessens Atlanta's need to spend on starting pitching, and that could also steer the front office toward a reunion with Ozuna.
He may not be needed based on their in-house options, but there is no doubt the Braves would be a better team with him back in the fold.