A few months ago, it seemed pretty clear where the destiny of Marcell Ozuna and the Miami Marlins was headed. Ozuna was coming off of a frustrating season in 2015, the Marlins had irked him and his agent Scott Boras by demoting him to the minors long enough to buy another season of cheap team control, and the Fish had spent most of the offseason thinking about finding a new trade home for Ozuna before letting him start in center field for the team in 2016. All signs pointed to a prove-it season for Ozuna and an eventual trade before 2017.
And then May and June of 2016 happened.
Over two months, Ozuna went from being a struggling hitter to one of the best hitters in the game, batting .348/.395/.613 with 13 of his 17 homers so far this year. It was an incredible feat for a guy who has not changed his approach much but is doing a great job of launching balls at a better angle to take advantage of his power. Ozuna looks like the player we all envisioned for the future after that strong 2014 campaign.
Now the question of Ozuna in 2017 and beyond is a murkier one. Presuming Ozuna dominates for much of the rest of the season, what should the Marlins do then? It is an intricate question that involves the future of Ozuna on the Fish and the direction Miami is trying to take with its organization.
The Argument for Trading
The Marlins are bereft of minor league talent, and they may become even more bereft if the club aims to acquire a starting pitcher at the trade deadline this season. By this time next year, the Marlins’ best prospect may be a guy who struggled as a top first-round pick and just underwent Tommy John surgery. Needless to say, the state of affairs in the minors is poor, and Miami is still not a team expected to fill major holes in its roster with big free agent signings.
How else can Miami fill its ranks with the kind of young, cost-controlled talent that it needs to maintain contention? The best way to do it is to trade high-level talent on the way out of the organization. There is at least a decent chance the relationship between the Marlins and Ozuna is irrevocably broken, and Scott Boras is probably not going to push his suddenly blazing hot client to stay in Miami longer than he needs to be. This means, once again, that there is a clock on Ozuna’s time in south Florida, much like there is for fellow Boras client Jose Fernandez. If he is on his way out, why not try to get all of the value they can out of him?
After all, the argument for keeping him after last season was exactly this type of scenario: Ozuna performs significantly better, rebuilds his trade value to that of a potentially elite talent who may get too expensive for Miami, and flip him for cost-controlled young players and prospects who can fill the rest of the team’s holes. Three years of cost-controlled time in arbitration of Ozuna may net the Marlins a young starting pitcher of good use and an outfield prospect who could fill Ozuna’s shoes. Miami could then plan on replacing Ozuna with a veteran outfielder in free agency who can hold the fort while said prospect develops into a starting role.
That package may be theoretical, but it is not unrealistic. Ozuna off of one strong season like this would definitely net Miami a great return, fulfilling exactly what the team likely planned on doing this coming offseason. It would be a nice endpoint for what appeared to be a bad situation heading into this year.
The Argument for Keeping
The Marlins are not some rebuilding roster looking to tear down an aging core. The Fish have two high-level outfield talents in Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich locked up through at least 2020. The team actively wants to retain its ace starter in Jose Fernandez. In addition, they have a few other decent cost-controlled names like J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich, and Adam Conley who could represent a part of a good supporting cast.
This Marlins crew is not a team that plans on hanging outside of the range of contention for the next few years. Provided Stanton recovers to a reasonable form by season’s end, the team only has a few more years of him before his player opt-out becomes available. The team has to try and contend as much as possible by 2020, when he could leave to get even more money from the free agent market. The easiest way to contend is to hold onto potentially elite talent with cheap contracts for the next few seasons.
It does not get any cheaper than a potential star in Marcell Ozuna staying in Miami under arbitration prices. Even after a great run like this year, it is very likely Ozuna will make around $6 million next season and go from there to make about $32 million over three years. There is no Marlins outside investment that can match Ozuna’s performance for that price. Ozuna would rightfully be one of Miami’s best trade assets, but a cash-strapped team like Miami may just need all of the savings they get with Ozuna. It would free up money to be invested elsewhere in the lineup if needed.
Which direction should Miami go? The team recently has spent more money than expected, so there is at least a decent chance the Fish could fill additional roster spots with the money saved paying Ozuna less than market value. At the same time, it is still the Marlins, so banking on reinvesting surplus value is a difficult endeavor. The Fish may be better off trading Ozuna anyway and finding the right return package then reinvesting some of that cash into a long-term deal to lock up Jose Fernandez as the club has always intended. The free agent market has a few reasonable names in guys like Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay who could be short-term fill-ins while a prospect develops as the team’s long-term future in the outfield. Meanwhile, Miami can use Ozuna’s talent to fill the rotation or other areas of need.
What are your thoughts Marlins fans? Let us know in the comments!