Marcell Ozuna’s one-year deal calling for him to receive $12.25 million next season, which avoided arbitration Friday, is believed to be the highest one-year contract for a Cardinals position player, just ahead of Lance Berkman’s $12 million for one year in 2012.
Reliever Greg Holland signed for $14 million for one year this past March, but the arbitration process wasn’t involved. Ozuna made $9 million for the Cardinals in 2018 after being acquired from the Miami Marlins.
Ozuna and the Cardinals’ other two arbitration-eligible players, righthander Michael Wacha and reliever Dominic Leone, all reached agreement Friday on contracts for next year.
Wacha was contracted at $6.3 million. The agreement calls for Wacha to receive $100,000 more if he pitches at least 175 innings.
He made $5.3 million in 2018 when, seemingly headed to the All-Star Game, he was 8-2 by June 20 before suffering a left oblique strain that ended his big-league season. He tried to come back through a minor league rehabilitation option but encountered more discomfort and had to be sidelined for the rest of the season.
Leone, who missed more than half of the 2018 season with an upper arm irritation, will make $1.26 million this year. He was at $1.1 million in 2018.
Beset by right shoulder problems much of the 2018 season, Ozuna, 28, hit .280 with 23 homers (13 at Busch Stadium) and 88 runs batted in, and he led all major league left fielders in innings played. Ozuna also tied for the National League lead in go-ahead RBIs at 31 with the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo.
After a stint on the 10-day disabled list in late August, Ozuna returned to hit seven homers and drive in 19 runs in September. Ozuna figures to hit fourth in manager Mike Shildt’s lineup. Wacha is slotted as one of Shildt’s five starters and Leone, impressive at times early in the season, is one of several righthanded relief candidates.
General manager Michael Girsch said, “The arbitration process is designed to make a settlement. Our goal is never to go to arbitration and we’e happy not to have it again.”
The Cardinals have gone to arbitration just once since 1999, with Wacha going and losing in 2017. Both Ozuna and Wacha are eligible for free agency after the 2019 season, and Girsch said that the Cardinals didn’t have anything scheduled in the way of long-term talks with either so far.
Nor, he said, do they with potential free agent Paul Goldschmidt, the first baseman acquired from Arizona in the offseason.
“We’ll see how this year goes,” said Girsch. Referring, specifically to Ozuna and Goldschmidt, Girsch said, “We’ve got to get one guy (Ozuna) back feeling good and the other to experience how St. Louis is.”
Having all their arbitration eligible players signed, Girsch said the Cardinals weren’t necessarily through for the offseason.
“We continue to evaluate the free agent and trade markets,” he said. “Whether or not we make a move is always hard to say, but we’re still trying to improve the team.”