Marcell Ozuna, Not Giancarlo Stanton, Is Superstar Trade MLB Teams Need

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 1, 2017

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 01: Marcell Ozuna #13 of the Miami Marlins at bat during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park on October 1, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins via Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

It's past time to ponder a hot-stove blockbuster involving the Miami Marlinsother All-Star outfielder.

As in, not Giancarlo Stanton. Plenty has already been said about a potential trade involving him, largely because such a trade seems about as inevitable as him hitting Statcastable dingers.

New Marlins owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter want to cut the team's payroll. Shedding the remainder of Stanton's $325 million contract would do the trick. Since the 28-year-old right fielder is coming off an MVP-winning season, his trade value is in good shape.

And yet I propose: The Marlins outfielder everyone should want is 27-year-old left fielder Marcell Ozuna.

It's not because he's Stanton's equal on the diamond. With his career .786 OPS and 96 home runs, Ozuna can't match Stanton's career .914 OPS and 267 home runs. And while he may be coming off a career-best .924 OPS and 37 homers, Stanton is coming off a career-best 1.007 OPS and 59 homers.

Still, Ozuna isn't chopped liver.

He's been an All-Star two years in a row and claimed his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger this year. He also has one big advantage on Stanton: a substantially cheaper price tag.

Stanton's record-sized contract has 10 years and $295 million remaining on it. Ozuna will earn a small fraction of that in his final two years of club control: $10.9 million via arbitration in 2018, per Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, likely followed by a good but not outrageous raise in 2019.

Of course, Ozuna's affordable cost is easily viewed as a reason for the Marlins to keep him. ESPN's Buster Olney indicated in early November that their instinct is to do just that:

But as Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported, the Marlins could be forced to shed payroll via trades of Ozuna and others if Stanton uses his no-trade clause to block deals to places he doesn't want to go. 

Otherwise, there's the simpler argument that dealing Ozuna is a better way for the Marlins to achieve what they want.

They don't just need payroll relief. They also need to replenish a farm system that Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter has ranked at No. 28 in Major League Baseball.

Due to the sheer size of his contract, the smallness of Stanton's market is one barrier in the way of them doing both by trading him. Another barrier is the question of whether he'll ultimately live up to his contract, hence why the latest rumored package for him (via Jon Morosi of MLB.com) sounds so light.

Ozuna is a different story. 

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 28: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins celebrates with Marcell Ozuna #13 after hitting his fifty-ninth home run of the season during the eighth inning of the game against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park on September 28, 20
Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

He was worth 5.8 wins above replacement in 2017, according to Baseball Reference. Set the cost per WAR at $8 million, and his value comes to $46.4 million. Assume some inflation in 2018 and 2019, and his value over the next two seasons could approach $100 million.

Relative to the $25-30 million he'll actually earn, that equates to a ton of surplus value. The Marlins could use that surplus value to leverage top prospects out of suitors in trade talks. Given Ozuna's reasonable price tag, there should be a good number of suitors to barter with.

For those suitors, though, the elephant in the room is a question that's as fair as it is big: Did Ozuna really reach new heights in 2017, or will his career year prove to be a one-time spike?

He wasn't terribly consistent in his first four seasons, typically following tremendous peaks with tremendous valleys—he even got demoted to the minor leagues in 2015. All told, he averaged just a .741 OPS and 2.0 WAR between 2013 and 2016.

But Ozuna's struggles were never a matter of ability. Pretty much everything that Statcast can measure—sprint speed, throwing strength and, perhaps most notably, power—paints him as one of MLB's best athletes.

His inconsistency at the plate was tied to his approach. He wasn't an aggressive swinger on the whole, but he swung at too many bad pitches outside the strike zone and not enough good pitches inside it.

Here's a look at how that changed in 2017:

Ozuna became the good kind of aggressive, channeling more of his swings inside the zone. He benefited accordingly, rocketing in-zone pitches at an average of 93.3 miles per hour en route to a .661 in-zone slugging percentage. His previous high had been .549.

Here's how Marlins manager Don Mattingly summarized Ozuna's transformation in June, according to Tim Healey of the Sun Sentinel: “Just less giveaway at-bats, as much as anything. Less throwaway at-bats, where he gets a couple of hits and gets happy and just starts swinging. I see more and more quality at-bats, and that’s how you pile up numbers."

Ozuna also benefited from a position switch. Defensive metrics such as defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating had rated him as a below-average center fielder. Both rated him as an above-average left fielder in 2017, with DRS even rating him as the National League's best. 

All this doesn't necessarily erase the threat of Ozuna regressing back to inconsistency and turning into a bust for a new team. For said new team, that would be a good amount of money and talented prospects down the drain.

But as far as risk goes, that beats the specter of Stanton going bust.

In light of his age, mileage and injury history, that's certainly possible. Maybe his new team wouldn't be lamenting lost blue-chip prospects, but that's a small comfort when you have an albatross worth a couple hundred million dollars clogging your payroll. Unless you're the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Yankees—both of whom seem to be unlikely fits for Stanton—that's a hard mistake to shrug off.

From the sound of things, it's a good bet that somebody will deal for Stanton this winter. But for everyone else, Ozuna should be either Plan B or Plan A.

Stats courtesy of Baseball ReferenceFanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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