The Curious Case of the Cardinals Outfielder

With the rumor mill boiling over the hot stove, today is the deadline for free agents to accept or reject qualifying offers and remain with their current team. Free agents who reject the qualifying offer are attached to draft pick compensation. Their former team receives a draft pick should they sign elsewhere, and their new team has to forfeit a draft pick and international bonus money. So what happens if Marcell Ozuna returns? Let’s dive into two different scenarios — if Ozuna stays and if Ozuna, well goes.

The general consensus on social media and around MLB agrees that the 29-year-old from the Dominican Republic will not accept the $17.8MM offer from his team, the St. Louis Cardinals. It isn’t because they do not want him back on the team or he doesn’t want to return, it’s mostly because The Big Bear (which is an extremely fitting nickname for the 6’1 OF) would and could be a better fit for another team.

If Ozuna were to return with the Cardinals, it would leave the already crowded outfield in the same predicament as previous seasons. Names like Dylan Carlson, Randy Arozarena, Lane Thomas, and Tyler O’Neill would quite obviously be pushed back into AAA, stay in MiLB or even ride with the Bench Mafia. Unfortunately, this was the scene for 2019.

Ozuna’s 2019 season ended with a WAR of 2.2, 485 AB, 117 hits, 29 HR, and a batting average of .241 in 130 games and an injury — compared to his previous seasons, this seemed, average. His career best came in 2017 with the Miami Marlins. Finishing his last season with the team in Miami with a WAR of 6.1, 613 AB, 191 hits, 37 HR, and a batting average of .312 in 159 games.

He was awarded with a Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and finished in a tie with Kenley Jansen for 15th place in NL MVP voting during the 2017 season.

So what happens if Ozuna doesn’t accept the offer?

As of today’s date, the St. Louis organization has a total of eight outfielders on the active roster with names like Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and Randy Arozarena that could fill the void in left field. This does not include utility man Tommy Edman, plug-and-play Yairo Munoz, and the surging prospect sitting in AAA, Dylan Carlson (yet).

If the front office remains noiseless this off-season, the 24-year-old Canadian, Tyler O’Neill has the greatest chance of starting on Opening Day 2020 but it will not be easy for him. In 2019, O’Neill ended his season with only a 0.1 WAR, 141 AB, 37 hits, five HR, and a batting average of .262 in 60* games.

Whereas the 24-year-old rookie Lane Thomas (who shares the same default position as Harrison Bader) ended his season with a 0.6 WAR, 38 AB, 12 hits, four HR, and a batting average of .316 in only 34* games played.

*Both O’Neill and Thomas battled injuries during the 2019 season.

And then, there is the one outfielder that everyone has been waiting for — the one that won a MiLBY as a Breakout Prospect. Yeah, that guy. Dylan Carlson. The 21-year-old left-handed switch hitter is one that needs to be on the Opening Day 2020 roster. During his 2019 stint, Carlson had 489 AB, 143 hits, 26 HR, 68 RBI, 20 SB, and a batting average of .292 in a total of 126 games between AA and AAA. His offense alone could fill the void that Ozuna’s hot and cold offense could quite possibly leave behind after today.

For all things baseball and things you didn’t know you needed, follow along on Twitter @chelseabrooke.

Source: Baseball Reference
Photo Credit: Getty Images, Springfield Cardinals

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