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Cardinals already lost the Marcell Ozuna trade

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The jury is still out on the other side of the deal, but hot takers insisting that the Marlins gift-wrapped a superstar to the Cardinals have been proven wrong.

Miami Marlins v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Marlins have taken a deliberate approach to the 2018 trade deadline. They know they’re sellers, but with so many controllable assets, Mike Hill and the front office feel no urgency to lower asking prices with five more days still to go until July 31. It’s actually an enviable position to be in...once you move past the whole “postseason hopes are totally dead” part of it.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ hopes are only mostly dead. Entering Thursday, FanGraphs pegs their playoff odds at 13.4 percent (and dropping). The Cards fired manager Mike Matheny, who reportedly enabled a toxic clubhouse culture. They haven’t won a series since the first week of the month and own the 10th-best record in the National League.

It’s a far more uncomfortable silence for the Redbirds than the Fish on the trade rumor front. They want to buy, but this sizable deficit in the standings would make it irresponsible. Barring a remarkable turnaround from talent already in the organization, St. Louis will miss out on an October run for the third straight year, matching their longest drought of the Wild Card era.

And with Matheny gone, Marcell Ozuna is an easy scapegoat.

Fish Stripes original GIF

When last seen on the Marlins, Ozuna was ballin’ out in every way. He slashed .312/.376/.548 (142 wRC+) in 2017, accounted for a career-high 4.9 fWAR and was deservedly showered in accolades: MLB All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove.

We loved Marcell, but he was headed for free agency following the 2019 season. New Marlins management determined that they couldn’t realistically contend for a championship in that brief window. Plus, his mixed track record at the plate raised concerns about a regression.

On December 14, 2017, the Marlins and Cardinals completed a trade:

  • Cardinals acquire OF Marcell Ozuna
  • Marlins acquire RHP Sandy Alcántara, RHP Daniel Castano, RHP Zac Gallen and OF Magneuris Sierra

The package headed south was largely believed to contain more quantity than quality. Given the depth of their farm system at the time, the trade earned virtually unanimous praise from Cardinals supporters:

Even through a more objective lense, Zach Kram of The Ringer declared that “Miami just made St. Louis better without much of a fuss.”

Fast-forward seven-and-a-half months and...¯\_(ツ)_/¯‬

Ozuna has struggled mightily. His .261/.306/.371 (85 wRC+) batting line and shaky defense barely represent replacement-level value. He leads St. Louis with 100 hits on the season, but that’s a reflection of opportunity, not efficiency—he’s played a team-high 98 games and continues to occupy a spot in the middle of the lineup.

The 27-year-old showed signs of life in late May and much of June. Outside of that? Total mediocrity.

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that the Cardinals might consider flipping Ozuna to salvage whatever young talent they can get:

According to a source, the outfielder is not the most popular player in St. Louis’ clubhouse. With one more year of arbitration eligibility left before becoming a free agent, Ozuna—who is having a subpar season in his first year with the Cards—could benefit from a change of scenery and bring back a prospect or two for St. Louis.

From a Marlins’ perspective, it’s still premature to celebrate the trade. The top prospects acquired, Alcántara and Sierra, have played just one major league game apiece in 2018 (though they’re both expected to stick on the roster throughout August and September). Gallen is poised to join them at the end of the season. Castano’s progress has stalled, partially due to injury.

This serves as a reminder that individual transactions can have tremendous consequences for teams high enough on the win curve. There’s about a two-win difference between what Ozuna was expected to produce up to this point and what he actually has. A 53-49 Cardinals team would be ahead of the Giants and Pirates, instead of looking up to them at 51-51. They would have been one good weekend away from legitimately buying in that alternate universe.

Hopefully, the Marlins will soon find themselves in the position to make such high-stakes acquisitions to round out the major league roster, embracing all the excitement—and risk—that comes with it.