Ozuna trade sets up Cardinals for more big-time moves - KMOV.com

Ozuna trade sets up Cardinals for more big-time moves

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Miami Marlins' Marcell Ozuna hits a RBI single to score Dee Gordon during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Miami Marlins' Marcell Ozuna hits a RBI single to score Dee Gordon during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

The Cardinals landed a Marlins slugger, after all.

He wasn’t the one St. Louis initially set out after, nor was it surprising he was the one the Cardinals ultimately acquired. In an effort to fill the ‘impact bat’ chasm in the middle of the lineup, St. Louis traded for Miami’s Marcell Ozuna Wednesday. Cardinals’ reliever Sandy Alcantara, speedy outfielder Magneuris Sierra, plus pitchers Zac Gallen and Daniel Castano went from St. Louis in the deal.

Since missing out on Giancarlo Stanton—and even before then—the Cardinals had reported interest in Miami’s other outfielders, Ozuna and Christian Yelich. With Yelich arguably the more attractive trade target due to his five years of team control for $58.5 million, the Marlins preferred to trade Ozuna. In his second year of arbitration eligibility, Ozuna is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $10.9 million in 2018. He is eligible for free agency after 2019, meaning the Cardinals are only guaranteed two years with him.

If the Cardinals pivoted from Yelich to Ozuna because the Marlins refused to trade the former—which is possible considering multiple reports following the Ozuna trade that state the Marlins will retain Yelich—that’s one thing. If the Cardinals did so because they balked at the thought of increasing their offer to accommodate Miami’s asking price for Yelich, that would be another thing—a disappointing thing.

Ozuna could make the previous sentence look like pretty foolish by repeating his 2017 production for the Cardinals over the next couple years. In Stanton’s shadow, Ozuna mashed 37 home runs and 124 RBIs last season, putting together far and away the best year of his five-year major league career. Ozuna set personal bests in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage (.312/.376/.548) while his OPS+ of 145 (league average is 100) ranked 10th in MLB.

Based on those numbers, bats don’t come more impactful than this one—but is that the bat the Cardinals are getting?

Ozuna played four years in the majors before 2017, never once approaching the offensive stratosphere he occupied in his most recent season. From 2013 to 2016, Ozuna compiled a batting line of .265/.314/.427 across more than 2,000 plate appearances. Before last year, he was a solid player, but far from a franchise-changing one.

Did Ozuna’s jump in production last season arise out of his natural progression as a hitter? Or in a result that could leave the Cardinals with buyer’s remorse down the road, was it simply all a fluke?

Ozuna’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last season was .355, considerably higher than in any other season of his career. Advanced stats consider Ozuna to be a strong candidate for regression, and it would be imprudent to expect otherwise with such a dramatic improvement in his numbers.

Even with some regression, Ozuna could certainly pan out for St. Louis. In their search for a dynamic offensive force, the Cardinals went out and got a player who stood among league leaders in nearly every batting category last year. It appears they did so without sacrificing many of the premium prospects with which Cardinals fans are familiar. These are very encouraging statements.

Of course, it takes talent to acquire talent, and Alcantara is reportedly the most significant piece in the deal. Ranked by Baseball America as the Cardinals’ fourth-best prospect, and with his triple-digits fastball, Alcantara projects as a back-end reliever in the future. He compiled a 4.32 ERA in 8.1 relief innings for the Cardinals in 2017, striking out 10 and walking six. With improved control, Alcantara could become a dominant force as an MLB closer.

Just as important as the names involved in the trade are the ones that are not. In landing a power bat by surrendering only Alcantara from the club’s top pitching prospects, and Sierra from their slew of young outfielders, the Cardinals maintain the ability to be aggressive in other pursuits. With Ozuna likely filling out an Ozuna-Pham-Fowler alignment in the Cardinal outfield, Stephen Piscotty has been linked in multiple reports trade reports to the Athletics. St. Louis could add to its prospect stockpile in that move, and turn their attention to other big names on the trade market, such as Tampa Bay’s trio of Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Evan Longoria, or elite rental bats like Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson.

Ultimately, if pouncing on Ozuna for what appears to be a reasonable price allows the Cardinals to move on one or more additional high-level players, it was a sensible business move—one piece in a grander puzzle.

But that means the Cardinals can’t be finished swinging transformative trades just yet—far from it.

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