Fantasy Baseball Impact: Cardinals Acquire Marcell Ozuna
The Miami Marlins continue to unload their top major league talent and attempt the long process of rebuilding the franchise. On Wednesday, the Marlins traded away Marcell Ozuna, their third All-Star caliber player to go within the last eight days. Ozuna was sent to the Cardinals, and the Marlins acquired four prospects in return; right-handed pitcher Sandy Alcantara (22), right-handed pitcher Zac Gallen (22), left-handed pitcher Daniel Castano (23), and Magneuris Sierra (21). Alcantara and Sierra are the top pieces in the deal for the Marlins, as MLB Pipeline ranked them ninth and sixth respectively for the Cardinals organization in 2017, while Gallen checked in at 13th and Castano was not ranked in the top 30. For 2018, Alcantara and Sierra are deep league fantasy options. Both debuted for the Cardinals in September of 2017. Alcantara tops out at 100 mph with a plus changeup but his control needs some work. He has the ability to be a potential closer in 2018 but has the upside to be a front-end starter. Sierra has high-end speed with very little power and projects as an above-average to good defensive outfielder. If he finds his way into the Opening Day lineup for the Marlins in 2018, he could be a factor in steals but not much else.
Cardinals Outfield Logjam
Marcell Ozuna, who turned 27 in November, had a massive breakout in 2017 hitting 37 home runs, 124 RBI while posting a .312 batting average. All were career highs as well as his OPS which checked in at .924, more than .150 points higher than his previous career best in 2016. Ozuna is under control through 2019 and is projected to make around $11 million in arbitration during the 2018 season. The Cardinals are making a run at the Cubs for the NL Central Division and have added a middle of the order power hitting corner outfielder in Ozuna, something in which they were lacking in 2017. At the time of the trade, the Cardinals have a logjam in the outfield that includes: Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty to fill three spots. However, as I write this, the Cardinals have traded Piscotty to the Oakland A’s for two prospects. It still leaves the Cardinals with four players for three spots, and I haven’t mentioned Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill who are both knocking on the door at Triple-A (Bader was called up in the second half of 2017). We are still over three months from the start of the regular season, and I’d expect at least one more outfielder to be dealt, most likely Grichuk, O’Neill, or Bader, before Opening Day.
2018 Fantasy Outlook
There’s a lot to look at with Ozuna. He’s always had power, and he’s right in the middle of his prime, so should we expect a repeat of 2017 moving from Miami to St. Louis? To find out we have to first look at the park factors between Marlins Park and Busch Stadium via Fangraphs’ Mike Podhorzer. It’s a virtual lock between the two, so no help for Ozuna there. When I dig deep into Ozuna’s numbers, two things jump out; his high BABIP and his groundball rate. His BABIP was a career-high .355 (.327 for his career) and his groundball rate was over 47% in 2017. Typically players with a BABIP that high are slap-hitting speedsters or players who hit a ton of line drives. Ozuna is neither. In fact, he’s stolen a total of six bases in the last four years and his line drive rates hover around 19.0%. Ozuna’s batting average on ground balls in 2017 was .338 compared to league average of .248 for players with a minimum of 120 ground balls hit. That puts him between Jose Altuve and Trea Turner. Which player does not belong? Based on this information, I’m expecting major BABIP and batting average regression. But because he hits the ball so hard (over 39% of the time), I’d expect his BABIP to settle in between .315 and .320 for 2018, which should translate to a .275-.280 batting average.
Ozuna had some of the best luck in regards to RBI production in 2017 via Scott Spratt of Fangraphs. His expected RBI total should have been closer to 110, which is still fantastic. Obviously, regression is coming for many of Ozuna’s numbers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think he will be productive in 2018. I realize this sounds like I’m bashing Ozuna, but it’s just reality that everything came together in 2017 and he had plenty of help along the way. Let’s try and spin this around a bit. Ozuna should hit third or fourth for the Cardinals. Let’s assume he will hit fourth. Hitting in front of Ozuna should be Carpenter, Fowler, and Pham. These guys can get on base in front of him with evidence of their 2017 OBP; .384 for Carpenter, .363 for Fowler, and .411 for Pham. That’s fantastic for Ozuna. He should have plenty of RBI opportunities. The guys hitting behind him are relatively unknown but in my opinion are underrated in Jose Martinez and Paul DeJong, so I don’t see a significant drop off in runs.
We’ve talked about batting average, run production, and steals, or lack thereof. I mentioned his well above average power but also his inability to elevate the ball at a high percentage. His approach at the plate is also less than ideal with over 30% O-Swing (chase rate), around a 75% contact rate, and over 12% swinging strike rate, but that’s what you’d expect from a slugger. Based on the numbers, I’d expect his K rate to sit between 21 and 23 percent. I mentioned his fly ball rate that sits around 33%, and that is not ideal if you’re looking for significant power numbers. In 2017, he had a career-high in HR/FB at 23.4%, a jump of 6.6% from his previous career high. I do believe part of the improvement is due to the “juiced” balls but also partly due to Ozuna developing as a power hitter entering his prime. I’m optimistic he can maintain a 20%-21% HR/FB rate provided the balls stay the same. For 2018, I’ll give Ozuna a line of .276, 29 home runs, 86 runs, 95 RBI, and two steals with an OBP at .343. Those numbers should have him slotted somewhere between Nelson Cruz and Justin Upton and well inside the top 50 overall.