The Boston Red Sox have languished in the depths of the lower echelon of free agents this offseason. Most of the rumors regarding Red Sox adventurism have fizzled out. DJ LeMahieu stayed tethered to the Yankees. Jose Quintana went elsewhere. George Springer went to a division adversary in the land of the Loonie.
What Boston collected on their free agency excursion is Kiké Hernández and his -0.1 fWAR to presumably fill the hole at second base. Martin Pérez has returned for minor cost savings and more bottom of the rotation pitching. The Red Sox have tossed $10 million to Garrett Richards who has won a total of eight games in the last five seasons. But one name has recently surfaced – Marcell Ozuna.
For those of us with a memory of the Brave’s visit to Boston in 2020, Ozuna was a baseball demolition man. A right-hand slugger who seemed to enjoy Fenway Park. How much? In three games it was four home runs, eight RBI, and a .429 average. Three of those impressive dingers came in one game. The first NL player to accomplish that feat. Those numbers get attention and Boston was not the exception to Marcell’s terror of pitchers.
Ozuna led the National League with 18 home runs, 56 RBI, and 145 Total Bases. Ozuna also tossed in a 179 wRC+ and a 2.5 fWAR. The 30-year-old could be in the middle of his prime baseball years.
Then there is the downside. Once considered an exceptional fielder, Ozuna posted a -16.1 UZR/150 last season. What happened?
Ozuna has had shoulder surgery. The shoulder had been an ongoing concern and Statcast had noted decreasing accuracy and strength with his throws. Ozuna addressed the issue with orthopedic intervention after the 2019 season. Is it still an issue?
The roadblock to signing Ozuna is the most obvious one. Money. The Red Sox inking Ozuna could drive them to the cusp of the luxury tax or over with the signing of Richards. That tax is the very issue that may force other suitors to step aside. The Dodgers and Yankees would be over, but the Brewers – another possible competitor – have more cap room than the main ballroom at the Breakers in Newport.
Money on Ozuna means money not dumped elsewhere with elsewhere being pitching. If Ozuna gets close to the MLBTR projection of four years at $72 million, that could be spent on a legitimate starter and bullpen closer with some leftover for coffee and donuts for the front office staff.
The Red Sox could create some space both in the outfield and the wallet with a departure of Andrew Benintendi. Ozuna – weak arm and all – can fill in at left field. Benintendi’s exit could free up $6.5 million. The other option for Ozuna is designated hitter and we have one in J.D. Martinez unless he tanks again in 2021.
Ozuna would be a big splash that could get Boston out of the apparent doldrums fans perceive they are in. Boston fans love hitting and Ozuna could certainly generate enthusiasm in that direction. I would have enjoyed Springer or LeMahieu to be in the Boston lineup and not Ozuna but those two are history.
I would also rather see Boston go in the pitching direction if they are going to spend. That is far more necessary than Ozuna as enjoyable as he would be to watch. As a fan, I am spoiled since in the not too distant past we would probably have pitching, Springer, and Ozuna, but that past is apparently history.
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