The Texas Rangers seem to have pivoted their offseason priorities and now are among the frontrunners for free agent Marcell Ozuna per reports.
While a potential trade for Nolan Arenado still dominates the minds of Texas Rangers fans, it seems the organization might’ve changed course some in their offseason plans. Per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, the Rangers are among a trio of frontrunners to sign top free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna.
Ozuna entered the offseason as one of the top free agent hitters available and one of a number of players on the radar of the Rangers. Texas reportedly joins the Reds and Ozuna’s former club, the Cardinals, as the three teams leading the race for the 29-year old. In 2019, Ozuna hit .243 for the Cards with 29 home runs in 130 games. His OPS was a solid .804 and saw his walk rate increase to a career-high 11.3 percent.
Over his career, Ozuna falls into the category of incredibly talented but hasn’t fully lived up to his sky high potential. Entering the league he patrolled an outfield alongside Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton with the Miami Marlins but hasn’t reached the heights that his former teammates did. Still, Ozuna is a talented player that still has some room from growth and would help fill the Rangers need for a right-handed hitter who can generate some power.
Defensively, Ozuna has settled in fairly nicely as an everyday left fielder. In left, he’s got a career 5.4 UZR/150 through nearly 4000 innings and last season posted an 8.6 UZR/150 in just over 1100 innings per FanGraphs. He has some experience in center field as well as right field in his career but hasn’t played either position since 2017 despite coming up through the Marlins system as a center fielder. There’s some thought that Ozuna’s defense was trending downwards in 2019 but considering he’s still in his 20’s, there’s hope any club signing him could help right the ship.
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For the Texas Rangers, adding Ozuna would likely be a tight squeeze positionally in 2020 but probably be with an eye to the future. It would probably mean shifting either Gallo or Ozuna back to center, most likely Gallo. Then, Calhoun would stay in left field with Ozuna going back to right field. While that’s not the most defensively dynamic outfield and Texas seems to prefer Gallo as a long-term right fielder, it would set them up nicely for the 2021 season. Shin-Soo Choo, the current DH, is out of contract after this season meaning Willie Calhoun could slot into that role, for which he’s probably best suited. That would allow Ozuna to move back to left field, his best spot and Gallo back to right. Then, hopefully, top prospect Leody Taveras would be ready to take his assumed spot in center field giving the Rangers one of the better defensive outfields in baseball.
Any deal to get Ozuna wouldn’t come cheaply though. At the beginning of the offseason FanGraphs projected the outfielder landing a four-year deal worth $70 million and had him as the 7th best free agent overall this offseason. We’ve already seen some of the top end free agents land deals above what was expected. However, with the race down to three teams, I would assume this should be roughly the ballpark Ozuna will land. It’ll be interesting to see if the Rangers or one of the other suitors adds a fifth year to the contract in order to complete the deal.