Cincinnati Reds: Marcell Ozuna in play despite not signing qualifying offer

Marcell Ozuna rejected his qualifying offer, meaning the team that signs him will have to forfeit a draft pick. That doesn’t seem to scare the Cincinnati Reds.

Marcell Ozuna rejected his qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals. Ozuna is now free to sign with any major league team, however, unless that team is the Cardinals, it’ll cost a high draft pick. That doesn’t seem to scare the Cincinnati Reds, who are looking to upgrade their offense this winter.

Ozuna can certainly help in that department. The right-handed slugger slashed .241/.328/.472 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs in just 130 games played. Ozuna missed a little over a month with a fractured finger, but otherwise, he’s been incredibly durable over his seven-year career.

The knock on signing Ozuna this offseason has been the strings attached. Ozuna received a qualifying offer from St. Louis, meaning that if he signed it, he’d receive $17.8M to play for the Cardinals next season. Thinking he can snag a better deal on the open market, Ozuna rejected that deal, but the ensuing signing will cost a team like the Reds a draft pick.

I had thought all along that tying that draft pick to Ozuna would keep the Reds away, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer recently spoke to Cincinnati’s president of baseball operations Dick Williams, who dismissed the idea that such a player would be off the Reds radar. Here’s a quote from Williams:

“We’re very aware of the guys who will have rejected qualifying offers and what that means for the economics of what we’re willing to pay. I think that’s how the system is set up. That is something we’ll definitely factor in. It doesn’t prevent us from talking to any player. We don’t look at it that way.”

You can examine Williams comments however you’d like, but aside from Ozuna, no other player who rejected their team’s qualifying offer matches what Cincinnati’s looking for. Antony Rendon is out of the Reds price range, Josh Donaldson doesn’t match up with the Reds plans and the other four are starting pitchers.

Ozuna, who’s historically played left field, would fit right in. A power-hitting right-handed bat could add protection to Eugenio Suárez and release some of the pressure on Aristides Aquino to duplicate his August onslaught from 2019. While all three are right-handed, a middle-of-the-order staring Suárez, Ozuna and Aquino could be pretty imposing.

There’s no telling which direction the Reds will go when they begin to reconstruct their roster, but the front office is definitely looking to upgrade the team’s hitting. That being said, Williams was also clear that the club can’t focus exclusively on hitting. Here’s another excerpt from his comments to the Enquirer:

“It’s not like we can focus on hitters that can’t play defense. We’re in the National League. We don’t have a DH. We need a flexible roster. We still need athletic players, so you can’t just go all-in on bangers.”

This is obviously reading the tea leaves, but if Williams is emphasizing the team’s desire to upgrade defensively, that may be a sign that Nicholas Castellanos is not terribly high on the Reds radar. While Cincinnati is rumored to be interested in the right-handed slugger who joined the Chicago Cubs at the deadline last year, Castellanos is a well below-average fielder.

Marcell Ozuna is predicted by MLB Trade Rumors to pull in a three-year/$45M contract this offseason. That seems like a very fair price for a two-time All-Star with a Gold Glove to his name. Keep an eye on the Reds pursuit of Ozuna, which may heat up despite him rejecting the qualifying offer.