The Miami Marlins Should Sell High on Marcell Ozuna
The Miami Marlins sure have the potential to dominate baseball's hot stove season this winter. With new ownership taking over and a reported desire to cut payroll, new CEO and part-owner Derek Jeter will be busy trying to find partners in potential trades.
Despite a 77-85 record in 2017 -- which marked the franchise's eighth consecutive losing season -- Miami does have a number of intriguing assets that other teams would want. Obviously, National League MVP finalist Giancarlo Stanton and his contract are the elephant in the room, but the Marlins reportedly would like to send second baseman Dee Gordon and third baseman Martin Prado packing, too.
Two young players the Marlins are unwilling to listen on at the moment include outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. This makes sense, and especially for Yelich, who is under team control through the 2022 season at a very affordable rate. But with regard to Ozuna, it would be a good idea for the organization to at least reconsider making him available this winter.
The Situation in Miami
Getting rid of players taking up too much of the overall payroll now and into the future -- i.e. Stanton, Gordon, and Prado -- to acquire young talent and achieve more financial flexibility is a good place to start for the group taking over in South Beach.
While Ozuna's contributions are valuable to Miami, he's better off in a different uniform if (or when) Stanton gets dealt. Stanton is Miami's most recognizable player and could very well be bringing home NL MVP hardware this month. If the Marlins are fine with dealing the face of their franchise, why stop there? It's not as if holding onto Ozuna is going to make a huge difference in the bottom line with regard to end-of-year revenue.
Dealing the soon-to-be 27-year-old makes even more sense when looking at his contract situation, which is the opposite of Yelich's.
He's entering his second year of arbitration and is projected to get a substantial raise from his $3.5 million salary in 2017, following a season in which he produced a career-high 4.8 fWAR. So, there's no cost certainty as Ozuna continues to get closer to free agency, and with Scott Boras as his agent, any kind of extension before hitting the open market is unlikely.
Value Is at a High Point
For a player that's endured some ups and downs, this is the highest Ozuna's potential trade value has ever been.
Through 679 plate appearances, he set new single-season career highs in wRC+ (142), wOBA (.388), OPS (.924), ISO (.237), home runs (37), RBI (124), walk rate (9.4%), hard-hit rate (39.1%), and fWAR (4.8). His defense isn't exactly stellar, but he does have experience playing all three outfield positions, and he did post 11 Defensive Runs Saved with an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 3.4 in 1,335 innings as a left fielder this year. It certainly doesn't hurt that the two-time All-Star just won his first Gold Glove award, either.
While Ozuna's 2016 season could be considered a breakout campaign of sorts, his numbers began to fade in the second half after a hot start. That changed in 2017, as he was consistently among the league's best hitters on a month-to-month basis. The below table compares his monthly wRC+ between these two campaigns to show the change in his progression.
Basically, this was a banner year for Ozuna, whichever way you'd like to slice and dice up his statistics.
Any Concerning Peripherals?
Watching Ozuna's power emerge even more than it did in 2016 was a welcome sight, but it did come with a concerning trend -- more ground balls. The below table shows the outfielder's batted-ball profile since 2015, including line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), fly-ball rate (FB%), and hard-hit rate (Hard%).
The consistent rise in his hard-hit rate is encouraging, but his ground-ball rate and fly-ball rate both regressed this past season after going in a positive direction between 2015 and 2016. What also stands out is his .355 BABIP from this year, which is much higher than it had been in the previous two seasons combined (.305).
If we dive a little deeper into his performance on ground balls, we can see that he had more success in this batted-ball event than ever before in the big leagues. After not posting a wRC+ higher than 62 or a BABIP better than .291 in this situation between 2015 and 2016, those numbers went up to 86 and .338 this year, respectively.
This isn't the first time he's performed well on ground balls -- he had a 107 wRC+ and .355 BABIP on them in 2014 -- but his power wasn't at the same level as it was this year (23 homers and .186 ISO in '14).
Could Ozuna just be the type of player that can put up big power numbers despite hitting a lot of grounders? It's certainly possible -- after all, he just did it this year and has shown improvement in other parts of his game. However, it's still worth noting that among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances since 2002, there have only been nine instances of someone hitting 35-plus homers with a ground-ball rate greater than 45.0% and a fly-ball rate below 35.0% (it did happen three times this year, though).
Even if this is a sustainable trend for Ozuna, it'd be tough to expect him to be in the neighborhood of 40 homers again in 2018, but hitting between 20 and 30 dingers would certainly be acceptable and within his range of outcomes.
In all reality, Ozuna could possibly fit with any team that's currently considering a run at Stanton. Two teams that could use an impact bat the most are the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, and the Boston Red Sox should be thrown into the conversation, too.
What complicates things a bit more with Stanton (other than his huge contract) is his full no-trade clause, allowing him to ultimately control his fate. Miami wouldn't have to navigate that issue with Ozuna, allowing the organization to explore many different routes in finding an acceptable trade package.
It's obvious as to why the Marlins would focus mostly on trading Stanton at the moment. But if they're not planning on Ozuna sticking around for the long term -- and there hasn't been any indication that they are -- then it makes all the sense in the world to at least explore the possibilities given his recent performance.