Much has been written about the decision to keep young slugger Marcell Ozuna down at AAA while the big league club is failing to produce runs and win ballgames. With only five wins under Miami’s belt since the All-Star Break, it would seem that the big motivation has ceased to be simply fixing his swing, and has shifted to keeping Ozuna from being arbitration eligible after the season.
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That in itself, from a purely business standpoint, is not the worst idea in the world.
According to at least one study, over the last fifteen years, the most efficient organizations in professional sports according to money spent per win (with a bump for having won a championship) are the New England Patriots, the San Antonio Spurs…and the Miami Marlins.
San Antonio does it by Tim Duncan taking progressively team friendlier contracts. New England does it with Tom Brady doing the same, videotaping other teams signals, and deflating footballs. And the Marlins do it by rushing young talent to the majors, eschewing paying big contracts to established talent, and pulling payroll stunts like the one we’re seeing with Ozuna and his “Super-Two” status.
However, Ozuna has been down long enough; this weekend seems to be the point where any chance of arbitration eligibility after this season will tick away, and he should return shortly.
He was hardly missed at all for the first nine games of his twenty-five game absence; his replacements batted a combined .333 during that stretch. But that has been followed up by a .137 slide that- combined with Ozuna’s minor league numbers- has led to the most recent PR circus. Player and fan frustration has started to boil over.
Looking at it another way though, it’s only in the last two weeks that Miami’s backups have failed to outproduce Ozuna’s MLB average of .249. And his banishment could even continue through the weekend- your Derek Dietrich/Cole Gillespie mash-up did just put up six hits in the last two days.
Aug 2, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins second basemanMiguel Rojas
(center) celebrates with left fielderDerek Dietrich
(left) after Rojas scored a run against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Now to be clear, if they start a petition tomorrow to ban Jeffrey Loria from owning professional sports teams, I’ll be the blur that just knocked you over in a rush to sign it. Baseball is a wonderful game, and more than any other professional sport, has a sense of romance about it- a sense of romance that is extremely hard to keep a candle burning for if your owner governs the team with ruthless, Machiavellian cunning.
The way this team is run makes me feel like I need to take a shower, and I’m not even the one pulling the strings.
However, if I were starting a generic business- no whimsical romance attached- and was looking for a CEO and shady but capable right hand man to run it…I’d be the blur that just knocked you over in a rush to the executive offices of the Marlins.
They might not be winning any PR pageants anytime soon, but they are very good at making money. And as that study suggests, they might also not be as terrible at allocating it as we might like to think.
So while Ozuna will be much more affordable next season, it’s certainly reasonable to have some concerns about what this has done to his relationship with the organization.
In twenty-seven minor league games, he’s batted .313 with 4 HRs and 10 RBI, with 10 2B. That projects to a very solid 24 HR season when stretched out over the full 162 games, and those 4 HRs also equal the total he put up in the season’s first three months. His power issues seem to be fixed. He’s affordable, with years remaining before free agency. Plenty of time to mend those fences.
But it could also be the perfect time to trade him, and that angle hasn’t been explored in depth yet. The assumption has been that keeping him in New Orleans has been all about delaying arbitration so the Marlins can pay him far less next season.
But this could just as easily be about turning Ozuna into one of the most coveted trade pieces during the impending 2016 free agency bonanza that should see $100 million plus contracts dealt out like candy.
Padding his stats against weaker competition, combined with coming at a bargain price and his past big league performance all help build up his appeal. Sure, you could give a nine figure deal to Yoenis Cespedes. But you could also deal for the player who could be the next Cespedes if he even slightly improves on his 2014 form.
This offseason, count on Miami making an impact signing. This season has proven that while there’s a solid core, it needs a boost, a boost at least one talent tier above the route they tried in 2015. That means either a proven run-producing bat, or a veteran starter of at least No. 2 caliber.
If Miami lands Jeff Samardzija or Scott Kazmir, then Ozuna is probably staying. But if the Marlins determine they can’t afford one of the top five SPs, then look for them to go after an Adam Lind or Chris Davis type bat. Then look for them to build a deal around Ozuna and one of the system’s top three pitching prospects for the best young MLB starting pitcher they can get in return.
Marcell Ozuna may come on the cheap end for Miami, but trading him could be the better option.
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