By Max Carlin, from Cardsblog.com
Give the Cardinals credit. They entered the offseason with one clear and defined goal — add a bat in the outfield — and they unambiguously succeeded.
For weeks, the Cardinals flirted with the Miami Marlins and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton. They made it so far along the process as to agree with Derek Jeter’s Marlins on the framework of a deal.
Alas, Stanton had no interest in moving to the midwestern bastion of St. Louis and used the threat of his full no-trade clause to block a deal to St. Louis. Ultimately, Stanton made his way to New York, where he will play Alex Rodriguez in a newly reborn Evil Empire.
The Cardinals, to their credit, were not disheartened by missing out on Stanton. Instead, they focused in on Stanton’s former teammate, All-Star Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna was coming off a career year in which he hit .312 with 37 home runs, posted a 142 wRC+, and generated 4.8 WAR. Yet, the Cardinals paid the reasonable price of Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra, Zac Gallen, and Daniel Castano.
There is some disagreement regarding Alcantara, the prize of the deal. On MLB.com, he is not even regarded as a top-100 prospect in baseball. Baseball America, however, ranks him 70th. Sierra, meanwhile, is ranked by MLB.com as the seventh-best prospect in a weak Marlins system, Gallen 18th, and Castano outside the top-30. The Cardinals did not surrender a massive haul for the All-Star outfielder.
In a historically slow offseason, several of the few major moves have involved outfielders. So, did the Cardinals choose the right one?
The return: Starlin Castro, Jorge Guzman, Jose Devers
The Stanton case is unique, in that the headliner of the return is not something tangible. It is, instead, freedom. Freedom from paying Stanton $265 million over the next decade. Stanton, at his best, is a National League MVP, mashing 59 home runs. But Stanton is rarely at his best. In three of his last five seasons, he’s played fewer than 120 games. Despite consistent offensive excellence, he’s posted seasons of 1.8, 3.9, and 2.6 WAR within the last five years. Does that sound like a $265 million player?
So, for the Yankees to acquire Stanton, they gave up very little in raw assets: a middling major leaguer and a couple forgettable prospects. But they did assume a great deal of risk. They took on the possibility that a consistently injured, sporadically transcendent talent would not perform up to the largest contract in sports history.
The return: Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz, Jordan Yamamoto
The final piece of Miami’s All-Star triumvirate, Yelich was undoubtedly the crown jewel from an asset perspective. Unlike Ozuna, he’s under long-term team control. Unlike Stanton, he’s under cheap long-term control, with five years and $58.25 million remaining on his deal. Finally, unlike Ozuna and Stanton, Yelich brought back a major haul.
Brinson and Harrison are now the top two prospects in Miami’s system, per MLB.com. Both MLB.com and Baseball America consider Brinson to be a top-20 prospect in all of baseball. The Brewers paid a very significant price for Yelich, but they got a special player, one who consistently produces at an All-Star level (4.5 WAR three of the last four years) and is compensated exceedingly reasonably.
The return: Bryan Reynolds, Kyle Crick, $500,000 in international signing bonus allocation
McCutchen, unlike the other big-name outfielders traded this offseason, comes with serious questions about his production. After the worst year of his career in 2016, McCutchen experienced somewhat of a resurgence in 2017, posting a 122 wRC+ and returning to being a slight negative in the field rather than a league-worst disaster.
At 31, having shown distressing signs of decline, McCutchen brought back nothing more than a decent prospect in Reynolds. However, McCutchen is also under contract only through 2018, so he lacks the team control that made Yelich so valuable and Stanton so cumbersome.
So, where does Ozuna fit into all of this? It depends what you value.
Yelich was clearly the move if you placed a high premium on consistency and team control. If you wanted to swing for the fences (and were able to convince Stanton to waive his NTC), you were willing to take on Stanton and the risk inextricably linked to him. If you sought a lottery ticket, a chance that you’d get something pretty valuable in return for very little, McCutchen was your guy.
Ozuna was a nice compromise. He was relatively cheap, came with some team control, but not enough that you’d have to concede anything of significant value, and finally, he could be counted on to produce.
There was nothing unpalatable about dealing for Ozuna. For every other big-name outfielder, there was something unsavory to be swallowed. If you value that, having no reservations whatsoever about a deal, then Marcell Ozuna was certainly the player to acquire.