All options are reportedly on the table for the Marlins in terms of how to improve upon a dismal 57-105 record in 2020. As always, free agency will be vital for adding veteran leadership to a young team and plugging a few gaps while some of the organization’s top prospects continue to develop in the minor leagues.
However, considering the team’s dedication to bolstering their farm system and building from within since the new owners took over, it came as a bit of a surprise Thursday when Michael Hill told assembled media that the Marlins have not ruled out signing free agents who received qualifying offers. Adding any of those 10 players would cost the club its third-highest pick in June’s MLB Draft.
This now opens the door for a possible reunion with outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who has spent the last two seasons with the Cardinals after being traded for Sandy Alcantara, Zac Gallen, Magneuris Sierra and Daniel Castano at the Winter Meetings in 2017.
Should the Marlins really pursue Ozuna considering both his likely salary demands and the draft pick it would cost to land him?
That depends on a few factors, the first of which pertains to the state of the farm system. In a few short years, Miami has turned one of worst farm systems into one of the best. With the likes of Sixto Sánchez, Edward Cabrera, and Nick Neidert, the pipeline is stacked with potential top of the rotation arms. Throw in the power bats of JJ Bleday, Jazz Chisholm, and Lewin Díaz, and you have an explosive future offense waiting in the wings as well. Most of the organization's top prospects are high-risk/high-reward, but there are enough names there to get any fan excited for the future. The only bases that aren't really covered by the farm are third base and catcher—luckily, Brian Anderson and Jorge Alfaro are both young and are already showing that they can become above-average contributors.
That first-round pick in 2020 (No. 3 overall) would be best used selecting a star college pitcher, someone who projects to have a much higher floor than some of the team's other pitching prospects and would reduce the element of risk in the system. After that, losing a lesser pick as a result of signing Ozuna would not cripple the rebuilding effort.
The issue then becomes about money. Although Ozuna may be willing to accept a “hometown discount” considering how much he loved playing in Miami, he would still be far more expensive than any other player who’s been acquired since the ownership transition. After all, this is contingent on him rejecting a $17.8 million qualifying offer from St. Louis.
Signing Ozuna would be a nice fan service move, but it is worth noting that he has not been the same player who hit .312 and drove in 124 runs in 2017. Over two years with the Cards, he has hit .262 with 52 homers and 177 RBI—way better than any of the current outfielders on the team, though not numbers that would single-handedly turn the offense around.
The Marlins definitely do need to improve their run production. Particularly for the 2020 season, they have plenty of at-bats available in the outfield. There are a lot of believers in how the front office has built the farm system, but the next wave of top outfield prospects are not quite ready. As Lewis Brinson has shown, rushing young players to the big leagues can reinforce bad habits that prevent them from realizing their full potential.
Marcell Ozuna can excite the community, keep prospects on the appropriate developmental track and contribute to winning games. Even at the cost of a top-50 overall draft pick, a reunion would be justifiable...at the right price. A contract any larger than two years/$32 million doesn't make much sense considering where the Marlins are currently at in terms of the rebuild.