photo: Marcell Ozuna (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images)
Note: See Wednesday 5 p.m. update at the bottom of this story.
The Miami Marlins have agreed to trade outfielder Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals, according to numerous sources on Wednesday afternoon. The return is said to be four prospects, led by top prospect pitcher Sandy Alcantara.
Alcantara, whose renown is based on a triple-digits fastball, made a brief MLB debut in September after pitching most of the season with Double-A Springfield. When in the Arizona Fall League, the still-unfinished prospect made it clear to me (subscriber interview here) that he wants to open 2018 in the Majors. As a Marlin, that seems more likely.
The trade is expected to be finalized on Thursday after physical examinations are complete.
Brian Walton’s take
Predictably, the Cardinals fan base is not unanimous in their opinion of the trade with the cost-cutting Marlins. This is clearly Plan B for St. Louis to improve the middle of the offense in the wake of the rejection from Giancarlo Stanton of their agreed-to trade with Miami.
As a trade target, some fans preferred their former Miami outfield mate Christian Yelich, who according to Wednesday rumors, is not on the trading block now that the Marlins have dealt away both Stanton and Ozuna this week.
Let’s look at pros and cons of the fit of Ozuna with the Cardinals.
Specifically, last season, Ozuna finished third in all of MLB in RBI with 124, and placed among the top five among MLB outfielders in home runs (37) and hits (191). The last Cardinal to hit that many long balls was Albert Pujols in his final St. Louis season, 2011. While Pujols exceeded 124 RBI four times, he Mark McGwire (twice) and Joe Torre (once) are the only Cardinals do so since Stan Musial.
Ozuna produced in the clutch. His stat line in 2017 included the following results (batting average/on-base/slugging/OPS):
- Bases empty: .292/.347/.524/.871
- Runners on: .333/.405/.575/.980
- Runners in scoring position: .356/.444/.619/1.063
The 27-year old should enjoy ample RBI opportunities with St. Louis, potentially batting behind three on-base specialists:
- Matt Carpenter (.384 OBP in 2017)
- Dexter Fowler (.383)
- Tommy Pham (.411)
- (another possibility is Kolten Wong at .376)
The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic native has been highly recognized, named to the National League All-Star team in both 2016 and 2017 and receiving an NL 2017 Silver Slugger Award.
Ozuna is a superior defender, winner of the 2017 National League Gold Glove Award in left field. Perhaps he will play in left for St. Louis with the possibility of Pham taking over in center and Fowler sliding over to right. Or the Cards could take advantage of his strong throwing arm and deploy him in right, with Fowler in left.
The concerns about Ozuna are legitimate as well and seem centered around two points: years of control and staying power.
- In acquiring Ozuna, the Cardinals are assured of just two years of his services. They will be his ages 27 and 28 seasons.
The outfielder will become eligible for free agency for the first time following the 2019 season. For these next two seasons with St. Louis, the Scott Boras client’s salary will likely be set via the arbitration process, ensuring Ozuna receives a competitive salary compared to his peers.
- Has Ozuna emerged as a true force or was his 2017 a flash in the pan?
While Ozuna has continued to get better over the last two years, he has only produced one season with an fWAR over four in his four-plus seasons as a major leaguer.
Here are his fWARs by season:
- 2013: 1.8
- 2014: 3.9
- 2015: 1.2
- 2016: 2.5
- 2017: 4.8 (This would have been second on the Cards to Pham at 5.9. Next closest was Paul DeJong at 3.0)
At this point, the deal appears to be 40-man roster neutral, with Alcantara going off and Ozuna coming on, but that could change depending on the other prospects involved in the trade.
My bottom line is that unless the prospect package is crazy, the Cardinals made a good acquisition. There is risk in every single deal, but Ozuna’s upside is highly appealing to a St. Louis offense that needs an immediate infusion of star power and star production.
Update: Wednesday 5 p.m.
According to reports from Miami, the other three prospects going from the Cardinals to the Marlins are OF Magneuris Sierra, RHP Zac Gallen and LHP Daniel Castano.
The latter just missed The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2018. The other three players in the trade had yet to be unveiled, but were slated to be ranked in the bottom half of the top dozen.
In other words, in the trade, St. Louis gave up good players, but not any of their most prized and nationally-ranked prospects.
Sierra, like Alcantara, is a 40-man roster player, meaning the Cards net up one spot in this trade. It could be used when the Luke Gregerson signing is official and leaves St. Louis with one extra opening they could deploy in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft or in a later deal.
To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.
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