One Marcell Ozuna for Sale

People tend to make too much of leverage. If you’re looking to trade a player, and you announce a list of the player’s weaknesses, weaknesses no one else knew about yet, sure, that would be bad for negotiations. That also doesn’t happen. What does happen, sometimes, is that a team gets tired of a player, and expresses a willingness to trade him, and the negative opinion doesn’t matter, because what matters is the market’s demand, and the market just wants to know if a player is good or not. All you need are for two or three teams to agree that a player’s pretty neat. Talks’ll take off from there, no matter what.

This is where the Marlins seem to be with Marcell Ozuna. They grew frustrated with Ozuna — and with his agent — in 2015, and when that hoax recording came out, it was still entirely believable. Based on all the chatter, Ozuna now finds himself on the block, as the Marlins want to turn him into something else. But the Marlins souring on Ozuna isn’t going to diminish his price, because teams everywhere have called them, and those teams aren’t competing against the Marlins; they’re competing against one another. Tuesday night, reports emerged that the Mariners were heavily involved in talks, and though nothing appears to be imminent, there’s enough smoke to suggest Ozuna could be headed elsewhere within a couple weeks.

It’s not often you get to observe a situation like this. When that’s the case, it makes sense the Marlins would be in the middle of it.

Marcell Ozuna doesn’t have to be complicated. What’s his deal? He hits the ball hard.

Really hard. He has 30-home-run power, and if you’re being nice, he has 40-home-run power. Last year was a big step back for him, but even then, on batted balls captured by Statcast, Ozuna ranked 10th in baseball in average exit velocity among 152 players with at least 250 batted balls tracked. One-hundredth of a mile per hour ahead of Ozuna: Nelson Cruz. Two-hundredths behind him: Kendrys Morales. Ozuna tends to make real solid contact. When he makes contact.

That’s the strength, and what further separates Ozuna is that he’s also newly 25, and he plays a perfectly fine center field. To re-state all that: Ozuna is a young center fielder who could conceivably hit 30 dingers a year. He has four remaining seasons of team control, and because of the games the Marlins played, Ozuna didn’t qualify for Super Two. That was part of the problem between the parties in the first place, and now someone else will probably get to benefit.

Ozuna was at his best in 2014. He slugged .455 and was something like a four-win everyday player. Because of his emergence, and because of the emergence of Christian Yelich, people wondered whether the Marlins might have the best outfield in the game. It would still be a valid question, but last year Ozuna regressed. That regression is what will keep Ozuna from costing an absolute premium. Now there’s some doubt. Ozuna was just worth closer to one win, and although he finished strong, there are more questions than there used to be.

Ozuna’s projection is worth only so much, given the obvious wide range of possible outcomes, but Steamer splits the middle and thinks 2016 Ozuna is in the neighborhood of a 2.5-win player. Taking an alternate approach, you see some elements of guys like Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez, and Colby Rasmus. They had similar skillsets, and between the ages of 25-28, they were all worth 10 or 11 wins, with big upside and frustrating downside. There’s that nagging thing, though. That reminder of what could go wrong. Ozuna broke out at 23 and fell back at 24. Jeremy Hermida broke out at 23 and fell back at 24. Hermida never recovered, and this all took place with the Marlins just a few years back. They know there’s no guarantee Ozuna gets on track. If there were, he wouldn’t be shopped.

For our sake, it’s nice of the Marlins to advertise what they’re looking for. If they are to trade Ozuna, it appears they want a young starting pitcher back. In a hypothetical one-for-one, it’d be a cost-controlled young outfielder for a cost-controlled young starter. There could always be peripheral pieces, but the Marlins have established what they desire.

Looking at the Mariners, since they were discussed so much Tuesday, there are a few options. Roenis Elias has five more years of control, but he isn’t good enough. That would be selling Ozuna too low. Nate Karns also has five more years of control, but he also isn’t good enough, even if he’s better than Elias. Moving up a tier, James Paxton has four more years of control, matching Ozuna. What he doesn’t have is Ozuna’s full-season breakout, and there have been injury problems. The skill level is obvious. Paxton should interest the Marlins, but given pitcher risk relative to position-player risk, this still seems just short. That leaves you with Taijuan Walker, who has five more years of control. Over Walker’s last 20 starts, he managed seven times as many strikeouts as walks. Walker seems like too much to give up. So you could do Paxton+ for Ozuna, or Walker for Ozuna+, but in a one-for-one, the answer is somewhere between those two pitchers.

And it’s not like it has to be a one-for-one, but it is still fun to try to find a starting-pitcher Ozuna equivalent. Alex Wood has the same amount of remaining control, but his star has faded too much. Someone like Danny Salazar would be too much — he’s on the same tier as Walker, or thereabouts. A name I keep coming back to is Kevin Gausman. He has five more years of control. He hasn’t had an Ozuna-level breakout, but he throws power stuff, and last year over 17 starts he managed a 97 FIP- and a 92 xFIP-. Though Ozuna’s reached the higher level, Gausman had the more encouraging 2015, and the extra control year more or less balances out the young-pitcher risk, in my mind.

So I think that’s the right kind of target, the right kind of match. To me, Marcell Ozuna is worth something like Kevin Gausman. Big upside going both directions, with the Marlins getting their power starter. Maybe Paxton would be enough; maybe the Marlins are particularly high on him, I don’t know. And as noted before, you can always sweeten a package with one or two other things. But if this trade happens, it’s going to be about the pitcher going back, most likely. And that pitcher is going to be both frustrating and promising. Quite a bit like Marcell Ozuna.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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8 years ago

What about the Tigers? There in win now mode and need help in the of. Would/should they offer up Daniel Norris or Fulmer for him? If Norris didn’t exceed his innings total he’d likely be a top 20 prospect and Fulmer is top 50ish.

Baseball Guy
8 years ago
Reply to  matt

I don’t think Norris is regarded as a Top 20 talent, not even close. Fulmer is not Top 100.

Goat Fondler
8 years ago
Reply to  Baseball Guy

Rankings are irrelevant. I would be fairly shocked if Miami wouldn’t jump at the chance to acquire Norris for Ozuna.

Matt C
8 years ago
Reply to  Baseball Guy

Norris was number 18 on Baseball America’s midseason top 100, and had several impressive starts against major league competition since then. Not to mention he did this changing team and dealing with cancer. He did nothing that would warrant his stock going down, so saying he wasn’t close to top 20 is pretty ridiculous.imo

As for Fulmer not being top 100. I highly doubt that. He was on the cusp of it to start the year than he improved his stuff and had a dominating season. I think nearly every scout would put him in their top 100 right now.