Marcell Ozuna
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Cardinals to place Marcell Ozuna on 10-day injured list

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Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna is likely headed to the 10-day injured list after sustaining a worrisome finger injury during the club’s 3-1 loss to the Padres on Friday night. No formal timetable has been released for Ozuna’s return to regular playing time, nor has a replacement been named in his stead, though Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch hears that outfielder Tyler O’Neill may be promoted from Triple-A Memphis.

Ozuna, 28, sustained the injuries during the third inning of Friday’s game. He grounded into a force out, then dove back to first base in order to avoid a pickoff play by the Padres’ Eric Lauer. Upon replay, it appeared that the middle fingers of his right hand crumpled against the corner of the bag, and he laid on the basepath in obvious discomfort for several seconds before exiting the field with a team trainer.

While the full extent of his injuries has yet to be revealed, it’s clearly severe enough to warrant some time on the injured list. Per Goold, there’s some speculation that Ozuna may have fractured his middle finger during the incident. It was later determined that the pickoff attempt had been successful, and, following Ozuna’s departure, he was replaced in the lineup and on the field by left fielder Yairo Muñoz.

Through Friday, Ozuna carries a healthy .259/.331/.515 batting line with 20 home runs, 62 RBI, and an .847 OPS across 326 plate appearances. This figures to be his first stint on the IL since he was sidelined with a bout of right shoulder inflammation last fall.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.