photo: Marcell Ozuna (Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images)
Needing a middle of the order hitter for 2018 and beyond, the St. Louis Cardinals considered the Miami Marlins to be an ideal trade target. Especially appealing to St. Louis was the 2017 National League Most Valuable Player, Giancarlo Stanton.
Most Cardinals fans already know the story of Stanton and his decision to turn down the opportunity to play for St. Louis. The new cost-cutting ownership of the Marlins wanted to divest themselves of the outfielder who hit 59 home runs in 2017. But there was the pesky issue of Stanton’s no-trade protection, adding insult to the $295 million and 10 years remaining on his contract.
Still, Miami worked out separate trades with the San Francisco Giants and the Cardinals. Stanton agreed to meet with both clubs’ leadership, though ultimately, he did not approve either as his new MLB home. With feet held to the fire, the Marlins moved on to the New York Yankees, a team to which Stanton was delighted to be traded.
Having already heavily invested in scouting Cardinals players, the Marlins agreed to send their 2017 Silver Slugger and Gold Glove-winning outfielder Marcell Ozuna to St. Louis instead. This trade, first disclosed on December 13 and formally announced the next day, looks to be an excellent consolation prize for St. Louis.
In return for the 27-year old, the Cardinals sent four players to Miami: RHP Sandy Alcantara, OF Magneuris Sierra, RHP Zac Gallen and LHP Daniel Castano. The first three were top-10 prospects in St. Louis’ system, according to The Cardinal Nation’s rankings, but the loss of the group did not seriously damage the Cardinals depth or pipeline.
One key difference from Stanton is the contract situation. Ozuna, now arbitration eligible, has just two years remaining prior to free agency.
In 2017, Ozuna set career single-season highs for batting average (.312), home runs (37) and RBI (124). The right-handed hitter finished the 2017 campaign ranked third in the league in both home runs and RBI and he finished seventh among the league’s batting leaders. He joined Matt Kemp (2011) and Matt Holliday (2007) as just the third National League outfielder since 2003 to compile a .310-plus batting average, 30-plus home runs and 120-plus RBI in the same season. In fact, Ozuna has launched 23 or more homers in three of his four full seasons in the majors.
In comparison, the last Cardinal to hit 37 long balls was Albert Pujols in his final St. Louis season, 2011. While Pujols exceeded Ozuna’s 124 RBI four times, he Mark McGwire (twice) and Joe Torre (once) are the only Cardinals do so since Stan Musial.
Ozuna, a National League All-Star in both 2016 and 2017, should enjoy ample RBI opportunities with St. Louis, potentially batting behind a trio of on-base specialists:
- Matt Carpenter (.384 OBP in 2017)
- Dexter Fowler (.383)
- Tommy Pham (.411)
- (another possibility is Kolten Wong at .376)
Ozuna may be the first true clean-up hitter for the Cardinals since Carlos Beltran in 2012, also Mike Matheny’s debut season as manager. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic topped all NL clean-up hitters (minimum 400 at-bats) with his .548 slugging percentage and .924 OPS.
Ozuna is known for producing 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
It is not just a one-year phenomenon, either. Over his career, Ozuna has crafted a batting mark of .297 (183-for-617) with 20 home runs and 256 RBI with runners in scoring position.
Overall, the right-handed hitter owns a career batting mark of .277 with 96 home runs and 361 RBI in 653 games, all with the Marlins, the organization that originally signed him as an international free agent in 2008.
As noted, Ozuna is a plus defender. On his way to his 2017 Gold Glove Award, he led all NL left fielders in putouts (305) and fielding percentage (.984) and ranked second in outfield assists (10).
Though as mentioned above, the Cardinals may only enjoy the services of Ozuna in 2018 and 2019, his addition immediately should make the club more competitive in their quest to return to the playoffs after two down years.
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