The Cincinnati Reds are reportedly among several teams that are pursuing outfielder Marcell Ozuna as they gear up for free agency that will follow the World Series. Maybe. The information initially caught my attention when it was retweeted be Hector Gomez who is the sports director at Z101 Digital in the Dominican Republic. Here’s the tweet he sent out:

The contract numbers are what caught my eye, even more so than the inclusion of the Reds being mentioned. What gets interesting here, and does make me a bit skeptical of what’s going on here is that as far as I can tell, Adan Lesther isn’t a sports journalist. I had to use google translate for his twitter profile, but it notes “Event animator and Masters of Ceremony. Marcell Ozuna PR,” and that doesn’t exactly tell me that he’s a journalist. That doesn’t mean he’s not right on the teams that could be interested in Marcell Ozuna, though. But that he literally listed Marcell Ozuna PR in his bio, and nearly all of his tweets in the last week are talking about Ozuna and why he’s underrated certainly is something.

But let’s ignore that whole 6-years and $170M contract for now. That’s just one that doesn’t seem to hold up in today’s unfortunate standard of not paying players anything like they used to. Instead, let’s look at Marcell Ozuna and see if he’s a good fit for the Cincinnati Reds at a contract that seems far more likely to be offered (and we’ll not really get into what that is, because honestly who knows at this point?).

It’s fair to say that everyone believes that the Cincinnati Reds will be exploring outfield options this offseason. As noted on these pages multiple times already since the season ended, the Reds need to add offense, and plenty of it if they plan to contend for the playoffs. On that front, Marcell Ozuna fits. He’s not a difference maker in the middle of the lineup, and shot of an outlier 2017 season, he’s never been that. But he has been an above-average hitter in five of the last six years, with the one year he wasn’t coming back in 2015. In the last two seasons since being traded to St. Louis he’s posted a 106 and 107 OPS+.

This season with the juiced baseball he hit .241/.328/.472. That’s the lowest average of his career, and it’s not really close. But it also came with an also career low and it’s not close BABIP of just .259. For his career his BABIP has been .315 – so he was very likely very unlucky during the season and should rebound quite well from that, assuming his other numbers and peripherals start the same.

We mention the juiced baseball because it matters. There’s no information out there about which baseball we’re going to see in 2020. The one used in the regular season in 2019 was very different than an already juiced baseball that was used in 2017 and 2018. But in the playoffs the 2019 baseball isn’t acting at all like the same one that was used in the regular season. That’s being brought up because Marcell Ozuna posted a .231 Isolated Power in 2019 – the second best mark he’s ever had, and nearly 50 points better than his third best season. He missed some time this season, playing in 130 games but still had 23 doubles, a triple, and hit 29 home runs.

There were two areas in 2019 where Marcell Ozuna was clearly better than he’d ever been before. On the bases he stole 12 bases in 14 attempts. He entered the 2019 season with 14 career stolen bases. With that said, his “baserunning” stat at Fangraphs was just 1.6 – tied for the second best of his career, but far below the 4.4 he posted in 2018.

The other area, and a far more important one that Marcell Ozuna stood out in 2019 was his walk rate. Entering the 2019 season his career walk rate was just 6.9%, with a career best rate of 9.4% coming back in 2017. But in the most recent season that rate jumped to 11.3%, making his on-base percentage far less reliant on his ability to hit for a solid or high average. Despite the lowest average of his career, thanks to a big increase in walks, his on-base percentage of .330 was still the second best mark of his career.

The Reds had a problem getting on base in 2019. That was one of the larger issues at play when it came to scoring runs – they simply lacked opportunities. On one hand, Marcell Ozuna’s increased walk rate is good to see. But if it’s a blip on the radar rather than a true improvement, and his BABIP doesn’t quite rebound like expected, that could be a problem. Diving into his plate discipline stats at Fangraphs we do see some small improvements in many areas. He swung a little less out of the zone. His swing rate in the zone was down from the previous two seasons, but right in line with his career mark. He did see the lowest rate of pitches in the zone during 2019 for his career. Overall, he was swinging less at both strikes and non-strikes than the last two seasons. There may actually be a small improvement in skillset here, rather than just randomness in how pitchers were attacking him.

Another interesting thing to note is that for most of the season, Marcell Ozuna was a very good, well above-average hitter. At the end of August he was hitting .265/.343/.509. And then he went into a huge slump. In the final 29 games of the year he hit an abysmal .135/.256/.297, going 15-111 with 5 home runs and 18 walks. His BABIP in that span was somehow .130. It tanked the strong season he was having, leaving him as simply an above-average hitter on the year.

All of that to say, that yes, Marcell Ozuna would help the Reds offense improve. But there are some questions about just how much improvement that would be. There are multiple reasons to think that the 2020 season for Ozuna should be an improvement over the one he had in both 2018 and 2019. Between the low BABIP and the improvement in his plate discipline numbers, the reasonable expectation would be that the offensive output would go up. And at 29-years-old in 2020, there’s no reason to expect a decline in production due to age.

Enough about the offense, though. Defense matters too, even if it’s not talked about as much. The numbers don’t exactly tell a strong story. At least for 2019. There are a lot of different numbers, and ways that defense is measured today. And every last one of them is questionable for their own reason. Baseball-Reference rated him out at -0.4 in their defensive WAR for the season. He had been slightly above-average the previous two years, but negative in the two years before that.

Fangraphs rated out Marcell Ozuna as a 0.0 defensive WAR player. On the surface that doesn’t sound good. But when comparing him to the other 16 qualified left fielders, that was actually the third best mark in baseball. His UZR/150 is tops among the left fielder group.

But then there’s the Statcast numbers. There were 92 qualified outfielders in 2019. Marcell Ozuna rated 83rd out of that group at 8 outs below-average. That was right there with Ian Desmond, Ryan Braun, and Jesse Winker. That said, in 2018 he rated 54th out of 87 at -1. That’s a pretty big difference.

When there are situations where the defensive metrics aren’t all in agreement, that’s when you want to lean on your scouts. And it’s also highly likely that the teams have better statistical data to work with, too. That data just isn’t available publicly. The public data has a rather wide variety of just how good or bad Marcell Ozuna is. If the internal data is more precise, more accurate – it could make a big difference. Rating out as a solid, or even good defender changes a lot of the overall value if the other side is the -8 that the Statcast Outs Above Average says. But if that -8 is more accurate, and the UZR/150 that has him at the top of the left fielders group is wrong, that’s a rather big swing in value, too.

Spending money to upgrade the team feels better than trading players and also spending money. In one scenario the Reds are losing players and dollars. In the other it’s just the dollars that are leaving. As noted above, it just feels unlikely that in today’s market that Marcell Ozuna would get $160M and 7 years. But there’s probably a set of years and dollars that makes sense for Cincinnati and Ozuna. And unlike some other proposed acquisitions, this would be for multiple years.

Photo of Marcell Ozuna by Ian D’Andrea. Photo has been modified slightly to fit the ratio of the site. License can be found here.

51 Responses

  1. Big Ed

    Defensively, Ozuna is uglier than five mud fences. There were at least two balls in the NLCS that a good LF would have caught, but Ozuna could not get in position even to make it close. Cardinals fans were not happy. And who could forget his climbing the wall early in the year, only to have the ball fall harmlessly in front of him on the warning track?

    Bad fielding does not age well. If Ozuna is that bad now, he’s gonna be the defensive equivalent of Judi Dench by 2021. He is a DH already.

    • Pete

      IMO, Astros beat the Yanks because of superior fielding and baserunning. Agree with you Big Ed and I’d rather have JBJ and try to make up the hitting at C and SS. Fielding doesn’t mean much until you need it….

    • MFG

      LOL! Great Judi Dench comment.
      Lets go after Didi and Grandal and pick up some bullpen help and get it done!

  2. KDJ

    He has been a Cardinal, so we have to give him a look . . . right?

  3. Frank howard

    Good grief……oh well…looks like nothing gonna happen…..same old thing…we already have 250 hitters.

  4. MFG

    If we look at Ozuna would we also take a look at Puig?

    • redsfanhelpme

      Yes! Go after PUIG!!! NO WAY on Ozuna!!!

  5. Rex

    his age is a problem…that money could be better spent elsewhere or on a better player/aged outfielder

  6. RedNat

    I would rather have Puig back. better defense and baserunning

    • MFG

      Agree and I like his energy and we need an enforcer for those bench clearing brawls!

  7. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I just don’t believe he’s the kind of bat we need. We need OBP batters. As in batters will an OBP over 350. I think we have the horses to knock runners in. But, we don’t have runners. For example, with Suarez, he had the 2nd most HR’s in the league. But, he had the 10th most RBI’s.

    “Well, that’s a weak correlation there, HR’s and RBI’s, because the person could just miss an RBI because they didn’t get a hit at all in the AB.” You mean, he missed an opportunity to increase his OBP? That just supports the other part of the OBP increase I believe we need.

    • Steve Schoenbaechler

      Especially if they are asking for something like that cost. Seriously.

  8. Earl

    Astros’ (& former Indian) Michael Brantley is an example one of those guys the Reds “could” have gotten.

    His contract is not crazy and the guy is just an all around solid player.

    Brantley made an insane circus catch playing right (I believe) against the Reds. One of the best plays I ever saw in person.

  9. BK

    Pass … he’s LF limited and struggles to get on base. Winker and Ervin will form a productive LF platoon at a fraction of the cost. I don’t see the fit here.

    • Corky Miller

      100% agree, Winker/Ervin and use the money elsewhere.

      Grandal or Didi, another starter (Jake Odorizzi) and Bullpen ( Will Smith).

      What about Brett Gardner to play CF? Need his energy and grit on this team..

      • BK

        I prefer Moustakas (upgrade 2B) over Didi … I think Didi will cost more and I’m concerned that his best days are behind him. This year, both Galvis and Iglesias produced more WAR than Didi–both will cost less and have less risk, but admittedly less upside. I also anticipate Moustakas signs for less than Didi. More production for fewer dollars.

      • TR

        Grit is important but the Reds usually acquire it from the Cardinals. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

    • doofus

      Uh, “…struggles to get on base.” Brantley had a .372 OBP in 2019 with 22 HR, 90 RBI, 179 hits and batted .311.

      Brantley is EXACTLY the type of LH hitter the Reds need.

      • doofus

        I would not want Brantley in CF, but LF is where we need a capable LH hitter.

  10. AirborneJayJay

    Tap the brakes. Let’s see if the Cards offer him a QO.
    Not interested now, but definitely not if he has draft pick compensation tied to him.
    Nicholas Castellanos is the OF the Reds need to target. He would make 150 starts in the OF. His numbers in GABP might be even better than what he did in Wrigley. He had a solid track record in Detroit with the bat or at the plate. He seems to be a much better got for the Reds offense.

  11. Tom Mitsoff

    Doug’s analysis makes me leery of Ozuna. He’s not a standout either offensively or defensively according to what I am reading from Doug. I can’t stand watching catchable fly balls not being caught by allegedly major league outfielders as I saw many times last season. A booming bat would compensate a bit for defensive deficiencies, but I’m not sure Ozuna is as much of a thumper as I had believed.

  12. Curt

    He doesn’t play centerfield. The Reds need a centerfielder that brings O and D. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be focusing on top priorities before lower.

  13. Colorado Red

    Sounds like a PR move to increase his salary.
    Let someone else sign him (for much less, I would think)
    Do not need another former card on the team.

  14. Kap

    Shogo akiyama from the nippon baseball league is now another option for center field. His profile seems very intriguing

    • Curt

      Kap, interesting, but he’d have to slip through the west coast net first and two of the teams that have reportedly been looking at him are the Padres and Mariners. Diamondbacks as well. He’s also 31 fwiw. What other options are you seeing?

      • Kap

        Jackie Bradley jr, ender inciarte, starling marte, maybe kiermaier or pillar. Nithing really too exciting

  15. The other JB

    NO,NO,NO Ozuna is not the answer. Castellonas would look great in GABP. ( I could live with his Defense for the type of bat he brings and no QO ). I hope the Reds find a way to address centerfield. I’d like to see Senzel at second where his defense would be above average and lets get the young man away from the outfield walls. Yes we absolutely need bats ,but the reds lost a lot of games because of there poor defense and situational hitting. Defense matters.

  16. Scott C

    Whenever I saw Ozuna play, he looked terrible in the field, he either can’t find and/or judge the flight of the ball or he runs bad routes to get to the ball. I do like him as a hitter but I’m not sure he brings enough to the table to warrant pursuing.

  17. MFG

    We are forgetting what a whole year of Aquino might look like? I think Senzel in CF for now looks okay. Platoon Winker and Ervin in LF because they have earned it. The big ? is our middle infield and bullpen. How far away are we from help coming from our minor leagues to help us in CF? Maybe Senzel plays CF for 1-2 more years?

    • Curt

      MFG, Doesn’t much matter anymore how Senzel looks in CF, except for maybe in a pinch, his CF days are o-v-e-r and have been since shortly after “the wall” encounter vs. the Cardinals since that’s when the narrative began to spin.

      I’d like to see a whole year of Aquino as well, mostly because I see him as a potential key part of what “could” become an Astro’s type band of brothers , 5-6 core kept together long enough to know and believe in each other and establish a firm hold on leadership in the dugout. I say “could” because I don’t have a lot of faith that the Reds will provide an opportunity for this to happen.
      Make no mistake though, the Astros as well as the Dodgers (Robert’s NLDS gaff aside) all have such a group of guys that drive the engine with leadership, trust and absolute belief that they are meant to win. And they do.
      It’s essential the Reds find this band of brothers ASAP and start the culture-shift sooner than later.
      Many of us aren’t getting any younger.

      • Pete

        I think the hard part to accept is like the Astros it has to rise from the ashes. Reds are going to pursue 2020 they way they’ve set the course – nothing can be done. It works or it fails.

        If it fails, I would beg Mr. C. to conduct a personal study of the Astros organization and Jeff Luhnow in particular: how did the Astros get him, how did they decide on him, to the best of Bob’s abilities what made the man a success. Once he has this grasp. Find the best people you can to search and find the next Luhnow. Be single focused and obsessed with the mission. Once you find your man give him the keys and a decent budget and turn him loose.

        Per Wikipedia, this was Luhnow’s resume before he Astros hired him. He apparently sealed the deal because he put together a complete plan on he would lead the Houston Astros to success. They followed the plan….

        “Luhnow joined the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003.[6][9] Cardinals owner William DeWitt Jr. had noticed what the Oakland A’s had done with their Moneyball tactics and was looking to run his team in a more analytical, data-driven manner when he first hired Luhnow as vice president in 2003. Luhnow knew DeWitt’s son-in-law from working at McKinsey & Company and from there, Luhnow met DeWitt and landed the job.[10] Luhnow’s hiring initially raised eyebrows, since he had no previous experience in baseball and had not played the sport since high school. He was derided with nicknames like “the accountant” and “Harry Potter.”[2]

        Luhnow began as the Cardinals’ vice president of baseball development, as he established a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic and extended the Cardinals’ scouting in Venezuela.[6][11] The Cardinals promoted him in 2005 to the role of vice president of player procurement, which made him the director of amateur, international and domestic scouting. He was named vice president of scouting and player development in 2006.[6]

        During his time with the Cardinals, he developed a reputation for scouting and player development, and he is credited with having a key role in the team’s successes in the minor leagues. The Cardinals won five minor league championships under his watch, and had the best system-wide minor league record in 2010.[12][13] From 2005 to 2007, the first three Cardinals drafts overseen by Luhnow produced 24 future major leaguers, the most of any team during that period. Several players who made important contributions to the Cardinals’ victory in the 2011 World Series, including Jaime Garcia, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Lance Lynn, were drafted during Luhnow’s tenure.[13]”

      • Curt

        Pete, I hear ya. I question the current leadership on every level in the Reds organization, from BobC and his shareholders on down to Votto, (who’s not a leader). Where is it? Who is it? The bold vision with the competence and stones and yes, love necessary to right the ship. At the moment, I’m not seeing it.

        Yes, an Astro or Dodger type of “band of brothers” does have to rise from the ashes which of course often requires patience, a problem in Reds Country for FO and fans alike. However, with good leadership along the lines of Jeff Luhnow, the process of rising from the ashes can be quickened considerably. Unfortunately we do not have him or Andrew Friedman to help.

        Patience has worn thin in the fanbase because many have been led to believe that we just did a rebuild or are finishing one and don’t want another. When the truth is there’s never really been a proper one (in recent memory) in the first place, unless one considers, duct tape, blocked prospects, waiver claims, minors and 1 year contracts a rebuild. Part of it sure…

        The FO has no patience because to put it simply, they’re too afraid of losing (games/jobs) to do what’s needed to win. So like a predetermined destiny, we get another year’s mad scramble to plug holes and give hope only for the same outcome to occur.

        Then there’s (I assume) guys like us, who have lost patience from just being sick of it all. We’ve got more yesterdays than tomorrows and would just like to see a winner again before shuffling off this mortal coil.
        Optimism is in short supply.

        The 19 shareholders are all getting rich so they’re happy.

        I suppose though that this off-season will say a lot about whether it’s even worth keeping up with the team until some new era truly dawns.
        I’m lucky in that being the oddball in a family of Dodger blue, I can always tune back in with them and enjoy winning baseball (postseason aside), I know they will be good again next year. It’s not easy though, as I was born and bred Cincy Red. I feel for my hometown sports fans, they deserve better.
        I mean the Bengals!? Come on, who in their right mind brings in a brand new staff across the board, wipes the slate clean and then thinks it’s a good idea to stick with the leadership of a quarterback who will never be a winner and a WR who can’t stay healthy. Huh? Absurd.

        Cheers for now, still some things to do before the Lakers season opener vs. The Clippers. Yeehaw!

      • Pete

        Curt, I agree with everything you write except I believe Bob C. and Mike Brown want to win as much as Bob Kraft and Jim Crane. It’s not the Reds FO doesn’t want to “do” what it takes, they “don’t have the skill level to achieve it”, they are doing their very best – no one likes to lose.

        It’s painful as you say as we only get so many summers and they are passing faster every year. Good owner’s hire the best people they can find and get out of the way. Still no guarantees but at least you have a shot.

        Here is Dick Williams resume lifted from Wikipedia, I’m really embarrassed to post it but you guys need to know what Bob C. is counting on to lead the Reds to the promised land:

        “He worked as an investment banker and from 2003–04 for the George W. Bush presidential re-election campaign.[3] He joined the Reds in 2006, upon their purchase by a group led by majority owner Robert Castellini,[4] as director of baseball business operations. He later became vice president of baseball operations and then was named vp/assistant GM in November 2014. Twelve months later, he was promoted to general manager, working under Walt Jocketty, then president of baseball operations. Jocketty became an advisor to Castellini with Williams’ December 2016 appointment.[1]

        The Williams family’s official connection with the Reds dates back 50 years. Dick Williams’ grandfather, William J. Sr., and great-uncle James were key members of a 13-party ownership group headed by Francis L. Dale, publisher of the Cincinnati Enquirer, that acquired the team from Bill DeWitt Sr. in December 1966. The Williams brothers initially held 15 percent of the club’s stock.[5] Under this basic ownership group, and led by general manager Bob Howsam, the Reds became a baseball dynasty during the early 1970s as “The Big Red Machine.” William and James Williams served as the majority owners of the Reds from 1980–84; they sold controlling interest in the franchise to Marge Schott in December 1984.[6] Dick Williams’ father, Joe, and an uncle, Thomas, are minority shareholders in Castellini’s ownership group.[4] Joe Williams is the club’s incumbent board chairman and Tom is vice-chairman and treasurer.[7]”

      • Curt

        Pete: Wow, so it really is Nepotism gone crazy. A little of which might be expected I suppose but didn’t realize Dick was an investment banker with no previous experience other than family ownership. Also surprised there’s anyone under 70 that goes by Dick. Ha! And who exactly is Nick Krall in all of this? So what we have is a mom and pop MLB franchise run by bankers who know how and are making money but don’t know how to put together a winning team. And for sure, no one likes losing.

        Hard to see a solution outside of new ownership at this point or they start firing family or just waiting until nature takes it’s course and hoping there’s a young lion in there somewhere waiting to rise. Do you?

        I’m sure they are doing the best they can but simply lack the skills. Explains the near panic to hire every smart stat guy they can find. That’s how bankers tend to think and that’s great but what’s missing isn’t data at this point, it’s heart. (And those pesky skills). If that makes any sense. I’m probably rambling at this point.

  18. Cbus

    No as well. He sounds like Puig but worse and more expensive.

    Get Castellanos and Grandal, won’t break the bank. Winker rotates among all 3 outfield spots and is the back-up plan if Aquino falls flat. Weakest hitter in the lineup would be SS and you can pick between a .300 hitter in Iglesias or a 20 HR guy in Galvis, doesn’t really matter which one.

  19. Pete

    I think we can see from these last two RLN articles finding a solution to the Reds issues is going to be difficult. There is a limit to how much money can be spent, the quality and quantity of available Red’s trade pieces, the Reds have many needs. The FO is going to need to thread the needle to make it happen.

    I appreciate the “all in” approach but is it practical? Does it lend itself to the temptation of appearing like the team is doing a lot when in reality it doesn’t really move the needle much?. The fan base is irritable and impatient, understandably, but there is no substitute for a long-term plan when a short-term solution is not feasible.

    This is a critical off season as they could really mess things up with unwise long-term expensive FA signings and bad trades that could tie the team’s hands for years to come. The one thing I have argued is the Reds are superior to the Bengals franchise, it’s a blessing and a curse. Reds need to shoot for an Astros quality organization and forget the shortcuts because at best maybe they become the Mets. If they are lucky. It’s not completely out of the question, they look much more like the Bengals in 2021, 2022, and 2023. All in is all in, come what may…

  20. Thomas Jefferson

    The Cards writer at The Athletic is reporting that the Cards will offer Ozuna a QO. If there is any doubt about going after him, that should take it away. This type of hitting would seem to be available in a number of places that will be more flexible on the field and require less long term commitment (and no QO comp): players like Moustakas and Kendrick come to mind.

  21. james mcdaniel

    why would the reds be interested in one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game today? He is a future DH.

    • Big Ed

      Ozuna is a defensive liability even as a DH.

    • Frank Howaed

      Probably because they are NOT interested.

  22. David

    In regards to Pete’s long comment about, about the Reds’ organization:

    Good luck with all that. Castellini represented the “Old Guard” thinking in the Cardinals organization, hence the hiring of Jocketty after the Cards let him go, in spite of his once in the recent past being “Executive of the year”.
    Yes, the Reds organization needs to totally rethink the way they’ve been doing it, because it is not working.
    They will not really be serious contenders next year, because they don’t have enough talent. Their farm system is not “loaded” with prospects that are ready to go, and going outside the organization for free agents is an expensive and risky operation.
    If everybody on the Reds had a career year (including Joey Votto bouncing back, which is likely NOT going to happen), then I could see them being a contender. But that is all a bridge too far. They just don’t have that much talent. Period.
    They will likely end up about where they were this year, right around .500, depending on injuries, etc.
    I would like to be optimistic, but everything I’ve seen indicates….business as usual

    • Pete

      Ironically, Walt J. was shown the door in St. Louis due to his bad relationship with Jeff Luhnow: Reds got Walt, Astros Luhnow. Small and curious world, eh? By the way, I’m under no illusion the Reds will pursue my recommendation but there is a different path available than the one they’ve choose. It’s heartbreaking and really at root, unprofessional.

      Jim Crane hired JL when he bought the team in 2011. He and Robert Kraft look alike in my eyes. I would tell Bob C. to his face, he is not showing wisdom and is more like Mike Brown than the two owners I mentioned.

  23. redfan4life

    No on Ozuna. I would like to see the Reds get a CFer and a SS and 2-3 relievers. Move Senzel back to 2b. Have catcher be your weak spot and wait on Stephenson. I would not go after Grandal.
    Ii would also try to get a solid vet LH hitting OFer as insurance for Aquino in case he falls off.

    • TR

      I like your comment, especially about going with the status quo behind the plate. Stephenson is about a year away and getting Grandal would only crowd up the catching position and make it difficult for Stephenson to take over. The Reds still have some building to do with young players before they’ll enter the competitive class in the NLC.