Major League Baseball sharks are now circling the carcass once known as the Miami Marlins after team CEO Derek Jeter dealt their best player, Giancarlo Stanton, to the New York Yankees in a massive money dump. So, it was only a matter of time before the names of Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich were brought up as potential trade candidates via all of the teams that fell short for Stanton.
Both players would be of particular interest to the Cleveland Indians, who are likely looking for both outfield productivity, and a potential offensive replacement, should the Indians fail to re-sign first baseman Carlos Santana. While Terry Francona thinks that Michael Brantley is still a regular corner outfielder, common sense dictates that the likelihood of Brantley maintaining a full season of production after two injury-riddled seasons isn’t good. While it’s too early to speculate on where Brantley truly ends up on the defensive side of the coin once he recovers from his ankle surgery, thinking they’ll have to protect their $12 million investment at first base isn’t too much of a stretch.
Both Ozuna and Yelich would be multi-year acquisitions. Ozuna doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season. After the 2014 season, the Miami Marlins got busy signing all of their up-and-coming youth to big contracts. Stanton was first, signing his 13-year, $325 million deal in November of 2014. Then in March of 2015, the Marlins signed Yelich, who had played only one full season in Miami up to that point, to a seven-year, $49,570,000 deal. The Marlins made several attempts to sign Ozuna, but agent Scott Boras would have none of it.
Boras, known to not give teams contracts before his clients reach free agent status, never backed down, and to say that then owner Jeffrey Loria was irritated was an understatement.
In 2015, rumors were abound that the Indians were looking to make a trade for either outfielder, as the team looked for potential center field replacements. While Ozuna was in center at the time, with Yelich in left field, both were considered solid center field options. Yelich had won the gold glove in left in his first year, and while Ozuna was erratic in center, he made some eye-opening plays on the balls that he judged well. Still, Yelich was a hard sell in a deal. With a cost-controlled contract, it wasn’t likely that the Marlins were going to move him any time soon. Ozuna, however, was erratic enough over the years that along with his lack of a contract, might make him a trade candidate.
I wrote about both in 2015 at EHC:
On Ozuna, who I thought was a more realistic option:
The same day I wrote that piece, Ozuna was sent down to the minors because of his 2015 struggles. You can see just from those two short snippets of an outfield piece that I wrote 2 1/2 years ago that Yelich is your prototypical “high floor” guy, high-ish ceiling guy, while Ozuna has “lower floor” potential, but likely has a “higher ceiling,” depending on what you deem important in baseball. The risks regarding Ozuna are obvious. Both players have excelled over the years, with Yelich providing the consistency, and Ozuna climbing that ladder, but in an inexact path.
Here’s Yelich’s standard fangraphs stats over the years:
There aren’t many players who can roll out three exact 4.5 fWAR seasons in a row, all carrying more than 659 plate appearances. He’s as automatic as it gets offensively. He has some fun little statistics, but none more fun than his BABIP, which has never gone below last season’s .336. Grady Sizemore lived in that inflated BABIP land for only three full seasons, but he never went above .339 during his early stretch.
His stats get a bit more fun:
Yelich lived in the 60% ground ball rate during his first 2 1/2 seasons ((for those wondering about a model for Yandy Diaz, start here). In 2016 and 2017, you can see that Yelich has clearly joined the “fly ball revolution.” While he certainly isn’t ever going to be the poster child, his ground ball rate dropped from 62.5% in 2015, to 55.4% in 2017, while his fly ball percentage jumped ten percent, going from 15% to 25.2 percent. When you equate that to his home run power, you can see that he went from a sub-10 homer guy, to a 20-homer guy, overnight.
Yelich is also a guy that tends to hit the ball hard. His medium and hard hit ball percentage hovers in the 85% range, and when you take into account his ability to hit to all fields (right around 30-40% for all three hit types), you have a player that’s almost the prototype to the “Ted Williams” style hitting. Keep your launch angle between 12% and 28%, be able to adjust on the fly, and hit the ball hard.
And just a little bit more fun from Yelich:
Yelich is almost across the board where you want to be with your swing percentages. Nothing stands out as being tremendous, but equally, nothing stands out as being a warning sign. With Yelich, you get what you get, a player that does everything right offensively, and is in complete control of his swing, and yeah, there is room for improvement, but you can sort of see that his profile is a bit more fixed than Ozuna.
Yelich is tied for 35th in the league in average exit velocity, oh by the way, with Marcell Ozuna and another rumored player to have some interest to the Indians, Lucas Duda:
Ozuna’s path through the big leagues has been a bit more erratic than Yelich. As I mentioned before, Ozuna found himself in the minors for a brief respite in 2015, but bounced back with a big close to the season.
Here’s a quick look at Ozuna’s fangraphs numbers:
You can see that after his 2014 “breakout” season, that he scuffled a bit in 2015, before ending the season strong. He then slowly climbed that ladder up to last season, by far, his best.
Here’s his added info:
And why wait for his swing stats:
In that 2017 season, Ozuna had his third or fourth “breakout” season, depending on who you talk to. The Marlins left fielder provided fairly staggering power numbers hiding in the shadows of Stanton. Ozuna set career highs in homers (37), RBI (124), runs (93), fWAR (4.8), wRC+ (142), and raised his BB% 2.3% over his previous high to 9.4%, while his K% only raised slightly, to a still respectable 21.2%. His z-swing% (swings in the zone) increased from 66.5% in 2016, to 73.1% in 2017.
Where it gets interesting here is that you can see that over his career, Ozuna has taken swings at more balls out of the zone. But is that jump to 73.1% in the zone something that can last over time, or will it prove to be the exception to the rule?
Ozuna offensively is a solid add regardless, but the 2017 version of Ozuna is a game changer to any offense.
What’s really been interesting has been what they’ve done defensively. As noted in 2015, Yelich was a gold glover in his first full season in left field, but always seemed to profile as a center fielder. Ozuna played center field, but always profiled to be a corner outfielder, especially because of his arm. I’m not sure the reasoning behind Ozuna playing center through 2016, but he wasn’t ever going to get time in right field with Stanton on the team.
Once Don Mattingly joined the team, he didn’t waste any time switching Yelich to center, and Ozuna to right. Ozuna promptly won his first gold glove in left field, while Yelich provided better-than-Ozuna coverage in centerfield. Yelich isn’t a gold glover, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but he can play centerfield. Ozuna would presumably position himself in left or right field for the Indians.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say left, even though Tito says Brantley’s still an outfielder. I just don’t see it.
The cost of trading for Ozuna
My standard belief regarding the Marlins after the Stanton sell-off was that what they didn’t get in prospects for Stanton, they could go out and get for guys like Ozuna and Yelich, if they were dumb enough to try and trade both.
Then Ken Rosenthal tweeted this:
#Marlins pushing Ozuna, telling teams he will be easier to acquire (lower acquisition cost) than Yelich. Two years of control for Ozuna, five for Yelich.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 12, 2017
While you have to question the sanity of the Marlins making something like this public, it’s okay by me. What this single tweet tells us is that both outfielders are available, and they are likely ready to sell off Ozuna. No, I don’t think you can get him for pennies on the dollar, but I’m guessing the pricetag for the Marlins’ left fielder isn’t top 30 prospects.
In other words, I think the Indians can acquire him for players other than Triston McKenzie and Francisco Mejia. I love Ozuna, but I wouldn’t part with either player for the final two years of Ozuna’s arbitration run.
Remember, the Indians acquired the best reliever in baseball for Clint Frazier, and while some will argue until their red in the face that it’s a reliever Jim, OZUNA PLAYS EVERY DAY, I’ll just sit back and counter with “Andrew Miller was the best reliever in baseball.”
Oh, and yeah, the Marlins said you can get him for a “lower acquisition cost.”
Ozuna will likely cost $21-23 million over the next two years, and if you’re getting 2017 production, that’s a boatload of surplus. Heck, if it’s pre-2017 Ozuna, it’s still enough surplus that you don’t worry about the cost, and you also realize that it’s only for two years. Defensively, he’s rock solid in left, so even if he’s floor Ozuna offensively, you are going to get production
So, what do the Marlins ask from the Indians?
Indians get: Marcell Ozuna
Marlins get: Triston McKenzie or Francisco Mejia, and two other prospects in the next 10 spots
I just don’t think the Indians stay in the hunt if they don’t back down from the top two. So if they don’t, the deal ends here. But when the do back down?
What do the Indians offer for Ozuna?
Indians get: Marcell Ozuna
Marlins get: Bobby Bradley, Yu-Cheng Chang, and Will Benson
And this is just a “placeholder” deal. I’m not sure who I’d prefer, or who’d they prefer, but I’m thinking three prospects, all that will likely factor in the future, and who are at varying places in the minors. So maybe you alter Chang and Benson, but I’d think if you don’t get the first two, Bradley is a must.
It’s funny, there’s one side of me that says the deal is laughable to both teams. If the Marlins had sense, they wouldn’t stare at any sort of deal that doesn’t include the top two, but if you’re the Indians, that might be too much to offer, because Jeter and company are just not dealing from a sensible position.
I think my point here is that you’d likely consider any three up-and-coming players in the top 15 that aren’t Mejia and McKenzie. If it’s more, you walk away.
The cost of trading for Yelich
This one is tricky. If the Marlins are going to build around anyone, it’s Yelich. Yelich still has four years left on his current contract, with a club option at the end. It looks like this, courtesy of sportrac.