Trading for the Marlins Marcell Ozuna or Christian Yelich

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 Yelich:

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:

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.

Yelich is guaranteed $43,250,000 over the next four years, and with a $1,250,000 buyout, he’s guaranteed $44,500,000. At just over $10 million a year for rock solid centerfield defense, and above average, consistent offense at a 4.5 fWAR clip, that’s the steal of the century. Even adding the $15,000,000 option to the tail end of that $43,250,000 leaves you at a surplus beyond belief.

If you’re the Marlins, you don’t trade that, right?

But man, Derek Jeter and company seemed overmatched right now for the job. It’s early yet, but it seems like they are leaking at every seam. If that’s the case you have to make a run. But it’s going to cost you.

What do the Marlins ask from the Indians?

Indians get: Christian Yelich

Marlins get: Francisco Mejia and Tristan McKenzie (and perhaps a tertiary player in the 10-20 range)

Now, I wouldn’t in a million years take this deal. You can’t give up two players in the Mejia/McKenzie range without getting back a superstar. While Yelich is a star for sure, he’s not the best player in the game at any level, or even close to it. He’s really good though, so the Marlins should ask for both.

Once the Indians say no, then you probably end up in this range:

Indians get: Christian Yelich

Marlins get: Francisco Mejia or Tristan McKenzie, Bobby Bradley and Yu-Cheng Chang

They get one of our top two, and three of our top five. That, in a normal world, still might not be enough, and you still may have to throw in a fourth player. I know it’s a lot, but you have to realize that a cost-controlled player, with all-star worthy statistics, isn’t going to come cheap.

I still probably wouldn’t do it, but there’s another deal I’d consider

Indians get: Christian Yelich

Marlins get: Bradley Zimmer and Nolan Jones

For some, that’s a cost that you don’t want to deal with. Zimmer’s upside as an elite defender, with 30 home run power is too much to give up. BUT, we know what Yelich is. He’s a good defender, and a 4-5 WAR lock. Zimmer’s struggles at the plate are enough to think that the unknown is less important in the next couple of years than what we actually get with Yelich in a return. And if you’re dealing for Yelich, you don’t need Zimmer, because you have Yelich for the next four years, and possibly five.

You also have Greg Allen, who is a better fielding center fielder than both, if you want to eventually move Yelich to right or left. To me, Yelich is the “buy now” guy, and at 26, he’s less than a year older than Zimmer. But remember, the important piece to all of this for the Marlins is cost. Zimmer is at the start of his pre-arbitration. He still has six controllable years, and even with peak production, would likely cost in the $25-$30 million range, at best…over six years.

The real question comes down to the “Who’d you rather.” If its Zimmer, you don’t touch the deal, but if you can live with an outfield that has Yelich in center, and think he can not only replace his production, but improve it, at least offensively, while losing a bit of defense, than you don’t blink twice.

It’s a stretch, I know, but one that you pay if you think that Zimmer’s offensive floor keeps him from ever taking the superstar leap. Remember, he’s a year younger than Yelich, who has four full seasons under his belt. To me, it’s not even a question, you make that deal.

Which deal would I make?

Is there a scenario in which we could get both? Would you be willing to deal Zimmer, Bradley, Chang, Jones, Bieber and Benson, for both players? Would you be willing to throw in a Mejia? I mean, a deal of that substance would be an interesting one to watch, and ponder. Not sure the exact players, but it would be substantial, and in the zone of “snowball’s chance in hell.”

But I’d consider making either deal, if the Indians control the players. I’d start with Yelich, because the skill set is so consistent. You literally plug him in, get .280-.300, get 20 homers, massive runs, good contact, and good to great defense. Zimmer is an unknown.

Of course, then you have to ask, if you don’t have both, is it worth it?

I say yes. Get Yelich.

If the Marlins aren’t biting, and they’ll take the package for Marcell Ozuna that doesn’t include the top two prospects, you go for that too.

You get that amazing power potential, and if it stabilizes, you have two years of massive offensive production, and a gold glove left or right fielder, wherever you put him.

The Marlins are likely looking to the Giants and Cardinals to swing a deal, since they’ve already discussed players in the Stanton deal, but you’d have to believe that the Indians would be in contact with the Marlins.

I find both deals highly unlikely, but in many ways, both would make the Indians a better team in 2018, and beyond.