MLB: Cardinals Pull Off Heist in Landing Ozuna

.312/.376/.548 (145 OPS+), 37 home runs, 124 RBI.     Ask some baseball fans to name the Marlins outfielder who put up those numbers in 2017, and I bet more than a few would shout out “Giancarlo Stanton!   Well, perhaps they would if you omitted the home run total since everyone knows about Stanton’s home run barrage over the summer.

Those were actually the numbers of 27-year old left fielder Marcell Ozuna, who the Cardinals were able to acquire today without needing to give up any prospects currently ranked in the Top 100 in all of baseball.   The Marlins have now given up two of the best corner outfielders in the entire game over the past week without getting a prospect thought of as being one of the best in the game.    I can understand that a bit with Stanton, since the goal was to dump his salary and get whatever they could in return.  It is a bit less understandable with Ozuna, who made $3.5 million in 2017, a figure that will go up nicely through arbitration, but still won’t break the bank.  He is not scheduled to become a free agent until after the 2019 season, meaning the Marlins still had two years of control over him.  There was no urgency here at all, yet the Marlins had no problem at all handing him over to the Cardinals today in a deal that is just making me scratch my head.

From the Cardinals perspective:

This one was an easy trade to make.  They probably didn’t want to lose talented right-handed pitcher Sandy Alcantara, but the other three prospects they threw into this deal are not nearly of the same quality.    When you have an opportunity to give up one good prospect (who pitched to a 4.21 ERA in Double-A in 2017) + prospects who aren’t even near his level for a 2-time All-Star who is still in his prime, you do it every single time.

Ozuna gives the Cardinals exactly what they craved this winter (which is why they were in on Stanton):  A power hitting corner outfielder who they can stick in the middle of a lineup that was middle-of-the-pack in the National League in runs scored in 2017.   The Cardinals ranked third in the National League in on-base percentage last season, but only 10th in slugging percentage.  Their problem seems to be simple:  They got enough runners on base, but didn’t have quite enough punch in their lineup to consistently get those runners home.  That changes with Ozuna.  His 145 OPS+ would have been the best number on the Cardinals roster last year (OK, by one measly point over Tommy Pham), and he draws enough walks to allow the Cardinals to continue to be a strong squad when it comes to getting on base.

Is there any major risk with Ozuna?  Not really.   You can point to the fact that before his breakout campaign last year, Ozuna had a career .265/.314/.427 (103 OPS+) line over 2,005 plate appearances.    The Cardinals would not be happy with those less-than-ideal numbers, but his 2017 breakout came on the heels of a solid 2016 campaign, which leads me to believe that he should be able to sustain his All-Star level of play going forward.    He isn’t a particularly good outfielder and his 2017 defensive metrics don’t stand out, but this is nitpicking.  The Cardinals acquired him for his ability to mash, and Ozuna should be able to keep up the mashing.  That is what is most important.

Since the Cardinals did not give up any of their elite prospects, it also gives them flexibility to pursue other deals, with all of their chips still in place.  The name you will keep hearing attached to many teams is Manny Machado.    Since the Cardinals did not empty their farm (or even make much of a dent in their farm) to get Ozuna, they can now turnaround and land Machado, if the Orioles are serious about trading him.  The Cardinals will have competition for his services, but they are just as well positioned as most to make the splash.

From the Marlins perspective:

I have no idea what they are thinking.   Alcantara is a solid pitching prospect, so I will give them that much.  The 22-year old skipped over Double-A when he made his MLB debut in 2017, pitching to a 4.32 ERA in 8.1 innings, which is hardly a big enough sample size to draw any conclusions.  In Double-A, he pitched to a 4.24 ERA in 157 innings, striking out 134 while walking a way-too-high 76.    I stated before that the Cardinals did not give up a Top 100 prospect to land Ozuna, though I should note that Alcantara was named on one preseason Top 100 list last year:  Baseball Prospectus named him the 40th prospect in baseball.  It is weird to see a kid ranked that high in one publication, but not ranked at all elsewhere.  Whatever.   Alcantara has talent, as he can dial-up the ball into the mid-90s with consistency, but this is the type of kid you expect to see as a secondary piece is a major trade, not the primary piece.

The other players in the deal are outfielder Magneuris Sierra and pitchers Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano.

Sierra is the most intriguing of that bunch, given his ability to play center field and his potential to be a lead-off hitter.  That potential is far from being realized, however, as the speedster has yet to show the ability to put up enough walks to be considered for the role.   In the minors last season, he hit .255/.305/.346 in 526 plate appearances, with a terrible stolen base rate mixed in (26-for-42).    The 21-year old briefly appeared with the Cardinals as well, going 19-for-60 with two steals in four attempts for the big club.    He has youth on his side, but with a complete lack of power and plate discipline skills that haven’t yet developed, he is going to rely a lot on his legs to generate a high enough batting average to compensate for the lack of taking a lot of walks.  He can always improve in the area of plate discipline, but that can often be very difficult for any hitter.

The 6’2″ Gallen is 22 years old, coming off of his first full season in professional ball.  He made 26 starts for the Cardinals system last year (making trips to High-A, Double-A, and even Triple-A for four starts), compiling a 2.93 ERA in 147.2 innings with a 121/35 K/BB ratio.   Gallen doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, but is efficient and is able to throw his pitches for strikes.   Gallen could develop into the type of pitcher you stick at the back of your rotation and live with the results that are useful, but hardly eye-popping.  There is value in a pitcher like that, and given how fast he rose through the Cardinals system, he could be an option for the Marlins in 2018.  (You and I can also be options for the Marlins this year, of course.  That pitching staff, on paper, looks as bad as any team’s in recent history).

Castano is least heralded of the bunch.  Drafted in the 19th round in 2016, the 21-year old lefty has made 26 appearances (25 starts) in the lower rungs of the minors, pitching to a 3.82 ERA in 139 innings.  I have always said that if you are going to get a throw-in player in a deal, always shoot for a left-handed pitcher.  If they can’t cut it as a starter, throw him in the bullpen and see what happens.   Perhaps something can work out there.  (I am thinking that I am probably coming off as pessimistic)

Bottom Line:

When you look at the haul for the Marlins, it doesn’t appear to be terribleright?  Alcantara could develop into a middle-of-the-rotation fireballer, or at the very least, a late-inning relief option.  Sierra can be a cheap, speedy center fielder for a team that is looking to be as cheap as possible.  Similarly, you can throw Gallen in the back of a rotation for $500,000 or so and let him soak up some innings while you go through what I guess (?) is a rebuild.

That is nice and all, but doesn’t really make me excited for the Marlins future.    They traded away Dee Gordon, Stanton, and Ozuna without netting any prospects that make you go “Wow!  Great get!”   Maybe a Jorge Guzman (acquired in the Stanton deal) steps up to become an MLB ace.  Maybe Christopher Torres (acquired in the Gordon deal) develops into a legitimate MLB shortstop and top-of-the-order bat.  Perhaps Alcantara can take a giant leap forward and become a top-of-the-rotation starter.

And maybe someone will send me an e-mail to offer me $2 billion for this blog space.

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