The Texas Rangers are reportedly interested in free agent outfielder, Marcell Ozuna, as they look to bolster the team heading into Globe Life Field.
While the pursuit of a third baseman and starting pitcher are likely to dominate the minds of fans, the Texas Rangers are reportedly one of five teams that are “heavily involved” with Marcell Ozuna according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network.
Ozuna, who just turned 29 earlier this month, is coming off his second season with the St. Louis Cardinals after they acquired him from the Miami Marlins and is considered one of the best position players available in free agency this year. For Miami, Ozuna was part of an outfield that boasted himself, Giancarlo Stanton, and Christian Yelich. That latter two have gone on to become superstars in the league however Ozuna has struggled to reach the potential seen in him when he was emerging in Miami.
For the Cardinals last season Ozuna hit just .243. However, he still managed an OPS of .800 with 29 home runs. He’s an outfielder known more for his contributions at the plate rather than in the field, however some of that can be chalked up to a perceived injury that many feel he might’ve been dealing with.
For the Rangers, pursuing Ozuna is interesting the say the least knowing he’s expected to command a fairly sizable contract being the top outfielder on the market. Texas is obviously in the hunt for a third baseman this offseason and like just about every other team, chasing starting pitching. The Rangers are expected to be aggressive in free agency and pursue some of the better free agents at those spots meaning offering Ozuna the $16-17 million per year he’s projected to get could come in lieu of another spot.
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As far as the value Ozuna brings to Texas, outfield is a questionable group for the Rangers. Joey Gallo is certain to factor in as one of the three outfielders next season but then Texas has a combination of Willie Calhoun, Delino DeShields, Danny Santana and Nomar Mazara who are all competing for the two other slots. Adding another player to that mix who would take up one of the other starting spots means at least one of Calhoun or Mazara and one of DeShields or Santana becomes obsolete so far as the outfield is concerned.
Ozuna is certainly an upgrade at the plate, particularly on the production of DeShields and Mazara, but defensively he’s limited almost exclusively to left field at this point. His right-handed bat would be a welcomed addition to Texas’ lefty heavy lineup but signing Ozuna would almost certainly come with the departure of at least one of the other outfielders. All positional logic aside, he would make the Rangers better. His 2.6 fWAR would’ve been second highest for Texas last season among position players trailing on Gallo’s 3.3 and just ahead of Santana’s 1.9 fWAR.
Inside the Mind of Jon Daniels
With a little bit of the groundwork laid out above, why is Jon Daniels interested in Ozuna. Part of this could just be chalked up to due diligence and communicating with any player that could make the Rangers better. However, there is a long-term gain to adding Ozuna now, despite an overcrowded outfield.
Many believe that Nomar Mazara may be on his way out of Arlington after another season of putting up replacement level production. The 24-year old is still immensely talented but four seasons into his career, he has yet to take the next step at the plate. Pair that with his subpar defense, and the question has to be asked whether playing him and limiting time for Calhoun or Santana could be counterproductive. Plus, Mazara is limited to right field which seems like the better long-term fit for Joey Gallo moving forward.
If the Rangers can move Mazara, as he seems the most likely, that trims their group by one. Also it removes a left-handed bat from the lineup which is another issue Texas is trying to deal with. That then leave Gallo, Calhoun, DeShields and Santana with Shin-Soo Choo filling in occasionally when he’s not DH-ing. Add Ozuna and yes, you’re back to square one with the overcrowding, but Daniels could be playing the long game with Ozuna.
Shin-Soo Choo is out of contract next season meaning not only is his $20 million-plus salary off the payroll, but also the DH spot is opened up, presumably for Willie Calhoun. That takes him out of the mix. Then, assuming Texas settles on a center fielder long-term, whether the be DeShields, Danny Santana emerging, or young Leody Taveras stepping up, the Rangers presumably have their trio for a good while in Ozuna, [inset your chose CF here], and Gallo.
I like the idea of adding Ozuna this offseason with a couple of stipulations. He shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of adding one of Rendon, Donaldson or Moustakas to play third base nor should he prevent Texas from adding a legitimate third starting pitcher. That would be a big financial commitment from the Rangers, one we haven’t seen in a very long time. However, if Daniels is playing the long game, it could be useful to deal with the extra payroll this year, knowing when Choo comes off the books, the Rangers have a quality left fielder for likely three more years.