The St. Louis Cardinals entered Tuesday in possession of a healthy four-game lead in the National League Central. Based on SportsLine's projections, the Cardinals have a 78 percent shot at winning the division, and a 95 percent chance at reaching the postseason. It's a good time to be a Cardinals fan, and evidently it's a good time to be a Cardinals player.
For evidence on the last bit there, consider that impending free-agent Marcell Ozuna recently told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that returning to the Cardinals is a "priority," and that his agents "just have to do their job" in order for it to become a reality. Ozuna's agency, MDR Sports Management, is presumably jolly about their client punting some negotiating leverage.
Ozuna, 29 come November, is having a good walk year. Coming into play on Tuesday, he's hit .255/.333/.496 (114 OPS+) with 26 home runs in 465 plate appearances. Ozuna doesn't offer much defensively, but he's certain to draw interest this winter thanks to his pop and relative youth. Our Mike Axisa has Ocuna ranked No. 9 in his free-agent power rankings, and last week noted that "Four years at $15 million per season is a reasonable expectation" for his contract.
Presuming Axisa is right, it'll be interesting to see if the Cardinals make a move to retain Ozuna, their most productive outfielder this season from an offensive perspective.
The Cardinals do have a number of options to throw on the grass heading forward, which could influence their thinking. Those candidates include youngsters Harrison Bader, Tyler O'Neill, Lane Thomas, and prospect Dylan Carson (who has hit .361/.418/.681 in 18 games at the Triple-A level), as well as veterans Dexter Fowler and Jose Martinez. It's possible the Cardinals decide they'd rather spend the money on something else -- like, say, another starting pitcher.
Of course, the Cardinals could decide to take up Ozuna on his interest, fulfilling his desire to remain showered in Class and Elegance, at which point they would have six hitters making more than $10 million next season -- four of whom would be in their age-32 season or older. It's an interesting dilemma, one the Cardinals will have to work through sooner than later.
Ozuna, for his part, seems to already know how he'd vote.