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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Marcell Ozuna

Ozuna hasn’t made much noise since a stellar 2017 season, but still has upside

MLB: NLCS-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When the Miami Marlins broke down their roster following the 2017 season, they traded away a trio of highly-talented outfielders. Giancarlo Stanton found his way to New York thanks to a no-trade clause that let him dictate trade discussions, Christian Yelich turned himself into an MVP in Milwaukee, and Marcell Ozuna arrived in St. Louis on the back of a promising 37 HR, 127 RBI year.

Ozuna was worth 5.5 bWAR that year, but he wasn’t able to come close to that mark in his two seasons with the Cardinals. Ozuna posted consecutive seasons averaging 2 bWAR, but he quickly turned from an emerging star to a corner outfielder with some pop in his bat. He was a solid starter, and his defense was sufficient, but his performance clearly wasn’t the middle-of-the-order type of bat that the Cardinals hoped they were getting.

The outfielder is on the market now, and he should have several teams interested to see if he can climb closer to those marks he posted three years ago. His peripherals indicate that while his on-base percentage and slugging dropped, he has been one of the hardest-hitting batters in the league while in St. Louis. A savvy team looking for outfield help could pick Ozuna up while he’s on a downswing and potentially reap the benefits if he can make the adjustments to return to his previous All-Star form.

Contract-wise, it likely wouldn’t require getting tied down to a long-term commitment to get Ozuna through his prime years. MLB Trade Rumors has estimated his value at three years and $45 million, which isn’t bad for his age 29-31 seasons. The only thing holding Ozuna’s value down from a comparable player like Nick Castellanos is the qualifying offer attached to him. Teams have been leery of surrendering a compensatory pick for the middle-class of free agents recently, and Ozuna fits into that category. That stipulation alone might be enough to cause a team like the Yankees to not bother courting him.

Assuming that the draft pick is non-consequential to negotiations, however, would there be enough of a fit for the Yankees to want to get involved? Their outfield situation is in flux at the moment, with the only sure thing currently being Aaron Judge starting in right field. Aaron Hicks will miss a good chunk of the season due to Tommy John surgery and it’s unclear if the Yankees want to continue playing Stanton in left or move him back to the DH primarily.

Considering their likely salaries, it would come down to whether the Yankees saw more upside in Ozuna than stability in reuniting with long-time veteran Brett Gardner. Ozuna is the stronger bat of the two, but doesn’t offer a different skillset than most of the other hitters in the Yankees lineup. Gardner, however, shines defensively and gives the team flexibility with his ability to play centerfield. Depending on how the market plays out, if Gardner is offered no more than one or two-year deals, the Yankees would probably feel more comfortable matching that than going with the unknown.