After a pair of underwhelming seasons in St. Louis (107 OPS+ from 2018-19),
Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the outfielder/designated hitter, who turned 30 on Nov. 12.
With Riley staying at third base, is Ozuna still an option for Braves?
Jan. 11: The Braves are more focused on adding a left fielder than a third baseman and expect Austin Riley to open 2021 as their starter at the hot corner, a source told MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi.
Source: Theare more focused on adding a left fielder than a third baseman. The team expects Austin Riley to begin the 2021 season at third base. @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 11, 2021
The free-agent market is saturated with quality outfielders, including George Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr., Michael Brantley, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Jurickson Profar and Adam Duvall, who was non-tendered by Atlanta in December.
There’s also Ozuna, though it’s unclear if Atlanta is still mulling a reunion with the slugger, who made 39 of his 60 starts as the Braves’ designated hitter last season. The universal DH isn’t currently in place for 2021.
Granted, when the Braves signed Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal last January, they didn’t know the NL would have a DH as part of the COVID-19 protocols in 2020. So at one point, they were comfortable with Ozuna as their starting left fielder.
Ozuna’s departure leaves a huge void in the Braves’ lineup, as he finished 2020 with a .338/.431/.636 slash line, 18 homers and 56 RBIs. Meanwhile, Atlanta has watched the National League East-rival Mets get considerably better this offseason, re-signing Marcus Stroman and adding Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, James McCann and Trevor May.
This team is a great fit for Ozuna
Dec. 26: MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince sums up the best fits for each remaining free agent from the top 25, doling out only one free agent per team. He says the Mariners are a great fit for Ozuna, especially given that teams have reportedly been told to expect no DH in the NL in 2021. The Mariners have some financial flexibility, and could use a power hitter who crushes lefties.
These 5 teams could be Ozuna’s best fits
Dec. 25: Finding the best free-agent fits for Ozuna is an interesting task, because his no-doubt elite bat is balanced by questions about whether his defense will push him into a designated-hitter role.
So what teams make the most sense? The Athletic’s MLB reporters came up with a list of five (subscription required) — the Braves, Mets, Blue Jays, Giants and Rockies.
The Braves-Ozuna reunion is obvious — signing Ozuna paid huge dividends for Atlanta in 2020, as he was an MVP contender for the NL East champs. But the Braves’ longtime division rivals, the Mets, could also be a landing spot, especially if the Mets miss out on top free agents like George Springer and Trevor Bauer and can’t swing a trade for Francisco Lindor or Nolan Arenado. Ozuna and Pete Alonso would give the Mets a dangerous middle of the order.
Moving to the AL, the Blue Jays have a DH spot to offer Ozuna and would be adding an established veteran slugger to their young lineup of rising stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
As far as the Giants, Ozuna would help San Francisco cement its offensive improvements in 2020. And who wouldn’t want to see Ozuna crushing home runs at Coors Field in a Rockies uniform?
Nats looking for big bat
Dec. 15: Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said Tuesday that the team is in the market for a “bat to fill in the middle of the lineup and kind of complement the rest of our middle-of-the-lineup bats,” and noted that could be done in a trade or free agency. He further noted that the ideal hitter would play first base or a corner outfield position.
Could that mean the Nationals are in on the Marcell Ozuna market? Ozuna has experience in the outfield, where he will likely have to play if there is no designated hitter in the NL in 2021, if he joins one of those clubs. Juan Soto played the final six games of the year in right field, which Rizzo noted was not a coincidence. The young star could likely move to right field if the team signed a player like Ozuna, who has primarily been a left fielder.
Perez: Ozuna sees himself as an outfielder, not a DH
Dec. 9: Just about everyone has Ozuna penciled in as a DH for 2021 after he nearly won the NL MVP award in that role for the Braves. But Ozuna himself doesn’t see it that way.
“He told me, ‘I don’t consider myself a designated hitter,” ESPN’s Eduardo Perez told MLB Network Radio on Wednesday. Perez spoke with Ozuna a few weeks ago and says the star hitter still wants to prove himself as a defender.
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) December 9, 2020
Ozuna’s adventures in the outfield with the Cardinals in 2018-19 were well documented. His throwing arm was severely limited by shoulder injuries that necessitated surgery, and he also had trouble judging balls near the outfield fences.
“He told me, ‘Look, my arm is a lot better,’” Perez recalled hearing from Ozuna, “‘but I don’t have to have a great arm from left field. What I have to do is be able to charge the ball well, get better jumps and now I understand that.’”
Part of Ozuna’s willingness to position himself to teams as an outfielder could stem from the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the DH in 2021. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Wednesday morning that NL clubs have “been told to work under the assumption they will have no DH next season,” but at the same time there’s still an expectation that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association will hammer out an agreement to reinstall the DH in the Senior Circuit before Opening Day.
Either way, Perez notes that Ozuna is only four seasons removed from winning his only Gold Glove Award in 2017, his last campaign with the Marlins, and argues that it could be worth the risk of signing Ozuna to man the outfield — if only for one year.
“If it’s for a year, and if you’re an organization and you take a gamble in saying, ‘Maybe next season there won’t be a DH, but after the collective bargaining agreement, there could be one,’” said Perez, “and you sign him to that four, five or six year deal, now you have yourself an outfielder that you already know can transition to a DH if you need him to in the next couple years.”
Sources: Giants, Blue Jays interested in Ozuna
Dec. 2: The Giants are among the teams with interest in Ozuna, sources told MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, though San Francisco’s pursuit may depend on whether the National League has the designated hitter in 2021.
Sources: #SFGiants have interest in free agent Marcell Ozuna, but their comfort level on valuation and term is somewhat contingent on whether NL has the DH in 2021. Ozuna, 30, was theDH in a majority of games this year. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 2, 2020
According to Morosi, the Blue Jays are also eyeing the slugger, but they appear to have George Springer above Ozuna on their free-agent wish list.
Sources: #BlueJays are among the teams with interest in OF/DH Marcell Ozuna, but they appear to have George Springer, 31, ahead of Ozuna, 30, on their free-agent preference list. 🇨🇦 @MLBNetwork @MLB @Sportsnet
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 2, 2020
Ozuna made 39 of his 60 starts as the Braves’ DH in 2020, a year in which he led the league in homers (18) and RBIs (56) while hitting .338 with a 1.067 OPS.
For the NL to have the DH again in 2021, it would need to be collectively bargained between MLB and the MLB Players Association.
San Francisco got surprisingly strong production from its outfielders in 2020, ranking fourth in MLB with an .862 OPS, but the club posted baseball’s fourth-lowest OPS (.596) at the DH spot.
Toronto was even better in the outfield, ranking third in OPS (.873), while Rowdy Tellez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. split time between first base and DH. But that evidently hasn’t prevented the team from showing interest in Springer and Ozuna.
What was Ozuna’s motivation in hiring new representation?
Nov. 23: CAA Sports announced Sunday that it has signed Ozuna, who was previously represented by MDR Sports Management. CAA also represents catcher J.T. Realmuto, another top free agent.
According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal in an article for The Athletic (subscription required), Ozuna was upset he hadn’t received any offers yet, prompting the switch. Although Ozuna played only 21 games on defense in 2020, his former agent, Melvin Roman, was marketing him as a left fielder and seeking a $100 million contract for his client, Rosenthal notes.
This is the second time in the past two years that Ozuna has changed agencies. He joined MDR in May 2019. MDR negotiated Ozuna’s one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves last January.
Ozuna reportedly had multiyear offers on the table before signing with Atlanta, but he opted to bet on himself with a one-year contract that gave him the opportunity to test free agency again this offseason without being tied to Draft-pick compensation. The decision worked out, as the slugger led the National League in homers and RBIs.
There’s been some speculation that Ozuna could wait for a decision to be made regarding the designated-hitter rule in the NL. The league used the DH in 2020 as part of the pandemic-related rule changes, but keeping it for ’21 and beyond would need to be collectively bargained between MLB and the MLB Players Association.
If the NL retains the DH for 2021, it could effectively double Ozuna’s free-agent market. However, it doesn’t seem as though he wants to wait to strike a deal.
Ranking Ozuna’s likeliest suitors
Nov. 20: Despite his defensive limitations and the uncertainty surrounding the designated hitter in the National League, Ozuna is drawing widespread interest already, with MLB Network insider Jon Heyman recently reporting that as many as 10 teams were in the mix.
MLB.com’s Will Leitch looked at Ozuna’s market Friday and ranked some of his potential suitors. In Leitch’s view, the Braves are leading the race. See who else made the list. More >
Could Astros replace Springer with Ozuna?
Nov. 18: George Springer is one of the major reasons why the Astros have been a perennial contender since 2015, but his tenure in Houston could be over. Count MLB Network insider Jon Heyman among those who don’t think the Astros will re-sign the free-agent center fielder this offseason.
“I think he’s as good as gone,” Heyman said on this week’s episode of the Big Time Baseball podcast.
Houston reportedly has been eyeing free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. as Springer’s potential replacement in center, but the 30-year-old isn’t in Springer’s league offensively.
It’s possible the Astros could sign Bradley to play center and add a more offensive-minded player in left field, where they also have a vacancy, with Michael Brantley joining Springer on the free-agent market. While Brantley is an option to return, Houston may aim its sights a bit higher.
Per Heyman, the Astros have expressed interest in Ozuna, whose market reportedly runs at least 10 teams deep. What Houston will need to decide is whether it is comfortable playing Ozuna in the field, as Yordan Alvarez is likely to enter 2021 as the team’s regular designated hitter after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees in August.
Report: Mets show interest in Ozuna
Nov. 16: The Mets saw first-hand the damage Ozuna can do with a bat in his hands while he topped the NL in homers and RBIs. But could Ozuna inflict that damage in orange and blue next season?
The New York Post’s Ken Davidoff reports that the Mets have expressed interest in the free-agent slugger. They’re far from alone, of course; MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported last week that as many as 10 teams had shown some level of interest in Ozuna, though this is the first time that the Mets have specifically been connected to him by a major report. The fit between New York and Ozuna isn’t obvious, since the club is seemingly covered at DH (Pete Alonso, Robinson Canó and J.D. Davis) and the corner-outfield spots (Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil). But as Davidoff points out, the Mets’ lineup does skew heavier toward the left side than most other offenses, and the right-handed Ozuna could help them improve against lefty pitchers (.773 OPS).
Catcher J.T. Realmuto and center fielder George Springer would seem to be more sensical targets given the Mets’ needs at those positions, but if the designated hitter stays in the NL for 2021, adding Ozuna to New York’s lineup certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Where will Ozuna land? Experts say …
Nov. 14: Ozuna is one of the most coveted free agents on the market this offseason, so there is no shortage of predictions as to where the slugging outfielder will land for the 2021 season. MLB.com asked three reporters for their thoughts on the matter, and all three had a different destination for Ozuna. More >
Ozuna drawing interest from as many as 10 teams
Nov. 13: Ozuna had trouble finding the multiyear deal he wanted last offseason, ultimately betting on himself by signing a one-year, $18 million contract with the Braves. Ineligible to receive another qualifying offer, Ozuna isn’t tied to Draft-pick compensation this time around, and he’s also coming off a much better season, one in which he led the National League in homers (18) and RBIs (56) while posting a .338/.431/.636 slash line.
As expected, his market is shaping up to be much more robust than it was a year ago. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman has heard that the 30-year-old is drawing interest from as many as 10 teams, and that’s without knowing whether the NL will have the designated-hitter spot in 2021. If MLB and the MLB Players Association come to an agreement that keeps the DH in the Senior Circuit next season, it’s possible even more teams could enter the mix.
No less than 10 teams, including the Braves, have showed interest in Marcell Ozuna, who led the NL with 18 home runs and 56 RBI and finished 6th in MVP voting. Interest comes from both leagues but it can’t hurt that the universal DH is on the horizon.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 13, 2020
The Braves are believed to be interested in bringing Ozuna back, and plenty of other clubs could use his powerful right-handed bat, including the White Sox, Red Sox, Cardinals, Rangers and Astros.