MLB Free Agency: Making the case for Marcell Ozuna as a Red Sox target

John Tomase
·4 min read

Tomase: Does Marcell Ozuna make sense for the Red Sox? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Red Sox are determined not to throw bad money after good in a flailing attempt to jumpstart a rebuild. They tried that approach with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and failed. They tried it with John Lackey and Carl Crawford and (mostly) failed. They tried it with Rusney Castillo and instead made him the highest-paid player in Triple-A history.

This winter will likely be about targeted strikes, addressing a lack of depth, and perhaps pouncing on mid-range free agents who fall through the cracks while the rest of baseball retreats into a financial shell.

That said, there's one free agent worthy of making an old-fashioned run at for old-fashioned reasons, and it's slugging Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna.

The Red Sox saw what the 29-year-old could do this September when he came to Fenway Park and launched four home runs totaling about a third of a mile. And lest you think that he just feasted on the likes of Ryan Weber, Kyle Hart, and Andrew Triggs en route to an NL-leading 18 home runs, let the record show that he sandwiched those four bombs between blasts off of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and Nationals All-Star Patrick Corbin.

Ozuna is the kind of throwback slugger the Red Sox used to target almost exclusively -- big, strong, and right-handed. If there's an active player with a swing more tailor-made for Fenway Park, he's not coming to mind.

Ozuna smashes line drives to right field and moon shots to left field. His on base percentage jumped over 100 points this season, to .431, he ranked among the league leaders in hard hit percentage and exit velocity, and he added two more homers in the NLCS vs. the Dodgers.

He turned out to be a massive bargain for the Braves at one year and $18 million, and because he received a qualifying offer last year from the Cardinals, he can't receive another one for the rest of his career. Whoever signs him this winter therefore won't owe any draft compensation.

If the Red Sox want to think down the road, Ozuna could remake their lineup in both now and in the future. For now, he could either make left fielder Andrew Benintendi expendable or bump him to center field. In two years, he could step into the DH spot manned by J.D. Martinez.

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Ozuna's massive right-handed power would help balance a lineup featuring left-handed hitters like Benintendi, Alex Verdugo, and Rafael Devers. His power would give the Red Sox a fearsome heart of the order featuring Devers, Martinez, Ozuna, and All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts, with Verdugo setting the table and catcher Christian Vazquez providing support.

And let's face it -- watching a right-handed mauler in Fenway Park is *fun*, and lord knows the Red Sox could use a little bit more of that after a dreary 2020. There's a reason we loved watching Manny Ramirez so much, and at his best, Ozuna provides that kind of vibe, with the added bonus that the Braves swore by his positive impact on the clubhouse, as Rob Bradford noted.

So why won't it happen? The Red Sox may decide they're not spending money on anyone, and in a normal offseason, Ozuna would be looking at a nine-figure contract. If they weren't willing to step to the plate for Mookie Betts because he didn't fit their timetable, why would they do so for Ozuna? (Answer: because Ozuna might cost $80 million, not $365 million).

There's also the trickier matter of his position. Though Ozuna won a Gold Glove with the Marlins in 2017, he's considered a below average defender with limited range. The team's outfield defense would take a major hit with Ozuna and left and either Benintendi or Verdugo in center, potentially weakening the club at all three spots. If the Red Sox trade Benintendi and add a center fielder -- or perhaps hand the job to speedy prospect Jarren Duran -- maybe this could be mitigated.

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In any event, if the market drives Ozuna's price down, he's exactly the kind of player the Red Sox should target. He'd add power and excitement, he fits short- and long-term plans, and he'd give the Red Sox something they're desperately going to need during this long, dark winter -- relevance.