Can I be honest with you, Cardinals fans? Back in October when the offseason started, my Miami Marlins outfielder desire list looked like this:
1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Christian Yelich
3. Marcell Ozuna
Stanton went to the Yankees last week, and today, the Cardinals traded for Ozuna, a 27-year-old slugger who bashed 37 home runs, drove in 124, and finished with a .924 OPS last year for the Marlins.
The Cardinals sent hard-throwing phenom Sandy Alcantara, outfielder Magneuris Sierra, RHP Zac Gallen, and LHP Daniel Castano. Miami had their eyes on Alcantara for weeks, his name existing in the center of Cards-Stanton discussions.
Here's the instant takeaway: John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch stole Ozuna from Derek Jeter and the Marlins.
While I preferred others over him, one can not deny the talent and skill set of Ozuna. He improves the Cardinals outfield, adding a gold glove to left field and spelling the end of the line for Stephen Piscotty and/or Randal Grichuk.
How does Ozuna help the outfield?
The Cardinals ranked 2nd (2.8) in the Majors in WAR in LF last season, but they were 18th (-0.6) in right field, a spot held mostly by Piscotty — who experienced a rough slide in his sophomore season — and Grichuk — who couldn't live up to high expectations. Ozuna's 5.8 WAR in 2017 and projected 3.5 WAR for 2018.
Ozuna has hit 20 or more home runs in three of his five MLB seasons, but 2017 represented a launching pad for the previously mixed bag of talent. He won a gold glove and a Silver Slugger award, slugging .545 with a 145 OPS+, meaning he was 45 percent better than league average mark of 100. That's pretty good on anyone's charts and graphs.
What's the rub on him? Before 2017, he was an enigma. Ozuna wasn't a bad player in 2014 and 2016, but the .773 OPS average over those two seasons didn't represent much to get excited about. He hit 23 home runs in each season, but a low batting average and OBP masked the luxury of a .450 slugging percentage. In 2015, he broke his wrist, limiting himself to 123 games and a .691 OPS.
How did he rise so high in 2017? According to MLB Network analysts, Ozuna closed his stance and lowered his hands on the bat last season, providing him with more coverage of the plate. This is a good story, but keep in mind Piscotty changed his stance before the 2015 season, which gave him better (if short-lived) results.
The million dollar question with Ozuna is simple: Will he revert back to his pre-2017 form when the league adjusts to his swing adjustments or did he truly change his abilities for good in last year? It's a gamble the Cardinals are betting on in this deal.
The other part of the deal that can sting the Cards is that Ozuna only has two more years of team control. In 2020, he reaches free agency, which could mean the Cards only get 324 games of service. However, if Ozuna holds up well in 2018, the team could buy out the last year of arbitration and sign him to a long-term deal. They have done it before with Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Piscotty, and Lance Lynn.
While Ozuna wasn't what Cardinals fans were hoping for last week, he is a clear upgrade over the 2017 slate, and he didn't cost the team many valuable prospects. While young and talented, Alcantara wasn't assured a bullpen spot in 2018. Sierra impressed in 2017, but he exhibited little power at the plate. Gallen and Castano weren't on the radar to contribute in 2018 or 2019.
Besides, the Cardinals are loaded with pitching prospects, which brings me to my final point: the Cardinals can't stop with Ozuna.
Sources around MLB have the team speaking with Tampa Bay about closer Alex Colome, starter Chris Archer and third baseman Evan Longoria. The latter isn't what he used to be, but if the Cards ate his contract, collecting Colome AND Archer may be easier. The team has also spoken with Toronto about Josh Donaldson and Baltimore about star infielder Manny Machado. Those two players would be 2018 rentals, which heightens the risk but lands you MVP-caliber talent.
Adding Ozuna is a pretty good start for the Cardinals in the high-stakes Hot Stove landscape, but in order to truly make it a great Christmas, the team has to fix issues in the bullpen and add a starter to take the "let's gather around Miles Mikolas" warning tag away.
If Ozuna even comes close to replicating his 2017 season, the Cards lineup will be a sinister kid in 2018, especially if Tommy Pham holds form after an unbelievable breakout year this past summer.
Potential is a game of risk and reward. The Cards are setting their chips on Ozuna being the outfielder they needed last year, but couldn't find. If he rolls backward to his 2014-16 form, the blow won't be as harsh, but the thrill will be lessened.
Will Ozuna hit .265 or .312? Will he hit 23 or 37 home runs? Will he get on base 31 or 37 percent of the time? Will the adjustment hold up, or will pitchers catch up?
That is why they play the games, in order to answer the juicy questions.
According to Craig Mish, National MLB reporter for Sirius XM radio, Ozuna should be an instant fan favorite in St. Louis:
Right now, Marcell Ozuna represents an upgrade for the Cardinals, but if the Birds want to contend with the Chicago Cubs in 2018 and beyond, they can't rest on just one steal of a trade.
They must keep going. Coffee is for closers, Mozeliak, so go get one.